With COVID-19 exposing inequalities, an invitation for Kansas women to join empowerment effort

In September, the Women’s Foundation announced its new identity and expanded mission. United WE reflects an organization of diverse individuals working together to dismantle barriers for women and enable a better life for all. (iStock/Submitted by United Women’s Empowerment to Kansas Reflector.)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Wendy Doyle is president and CEO of United Women’s Empowerment.

The global pandemic has — and still is — negatively affecting billions of people, but women are especially facing significant social inequities due to the impacts of COVID-19.

As our economy enters recovery phases, women face a steeper uphill battle to maintain stability and normalcy in both their personal and professional lives. One particularly disproportionate issue is access to child care. Many women are left making difficult child care decisions as schools continue to balance remote and in-person learning. There are many barriers facing access to child care, making it an economic equity and workforce development issue.

United Women’s Empowerment, or United WE, is working to change that.

Formerly the Women’s Foundation, we announced our new identity and expanded mission in September. United WE reflects who we are: diverse individuals working together to dismantle barriers for women and enable a better life for all. Much of our work began in Kansas, and it is where we will continue to advocate for change and a better life for women and their families.

The burden of COVID-19 on working women

Our research, compiled in a dynamic online dashboard called The Coronavirus Pandemic’s Impact on Women in Missouri & Kansas, shows women are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

This is particularly true in health care professions as women are the foundation of the health care system, holding 8 in 10 health care jobs across the two states. In Kansas, women hold 77.8% of health care positions such as practitioners and technicians, and 87.9% of health care support occupations including dental assistants, therapy aides and orderlies.

Additionally, women represent nearly half of the labor force nationwide but hold more than half of the services sector jobs in Kansas at 59.2%, and 80.6% of jobs in high-touch personal care services — jobs that have been hit harder by COVID-19 than others.

These professions are further aggravated by gender pay gap inequities. Across the United States, women make an average $0.82 per every dollar a man makes. In Kansas, this holds true among frontline workers of the pandemic. For example, female paramedics make $0.77 compared to their male counterparts.

Access to child care: A concern for Kansas women

Workforce inequities often affect women’s decisions on child care; when barriers like the cost or availability of child care are present, women are more likely to drop out of the workforce since they typically make less money than men.

The impacts of COVID-19 have further illuminated how challenging it is for women to fully participate in the workforce when access to child care is compromised.

In Kansas, child care costs are 31% of female median earnings.

Recent research demonstrates that women are also reducing work hours more than men to take care of children amidst COVID-19, which further exacerbates the gender pay gap and impacts long-term retirement savings capabilities.

In Kansas, 1 in 5 families are single mother households. These statistics show that women are making economic sacrifices to provide for their children, and that changes are needed to create a supportive workforce and child care policies.

The call to action: Supporting women through policy and change

As a result of the pandemic, many women are left having to make complicated choices regarding their careers and their families.

This is disheartening, particularly since The McKinsey Global Institute recently found that the Kansas economy stands to grow by 10% or more by 2025 if women’s participation in the workforce increases.

At United WE, we know that social inequities persist. We are committed to advancing women’s economic vitality and leadership. During the pandemic, our priority public policy and advocacy focus areas of equal pay, paid family and medical leave, and occupational licensing are even more critical.

We are committed to helping our partners understand these issues through a gender lens, and to advancing policies and practices that can help our communities respond to the impacts of COVID-19 in the immediate term and recover in the long term.

One of our priorities is access to child care, and we have seen how the pandemic has increased this workforce development and economic issue.

We also work to appoint women to civic leadership positions at all levels of government through The Appointments Project, because we know that when women have a seat at the table, everyone benefits. It is even more important now for our civic boards and commissions to truly reflect their communities.

Learn more about United WE and join us at united-we.org, and take the first step to be a leader in Kansas by applying at The Appointments Project.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. For information, including how to submit your own commentary, click here.