One of the most prejudicial misconceptions about gender equity is that it’s solely a women’s issue. Or a social justice cause. Or a mouthful of spit-on-men rhetoric. But gender equity isn’t a zero-sum game. Nor is it synonymous with women’s rights. When I talk about gender equity, I’m talking about dollars and cents. In the U.S. alone, gender equity would boost the economy by a whopping $3.4 trillion.
We owe it to ourselves to remove the outdated notions we may have about gender equity and look at it through a modern economic lens. As we look forward to another year, let’s put ten of the biggest gender equity events from 2021 in their critical economic context. This way we can begin to rewrite the narrative and drive progress toward equity for all.
1. January 2021: A frosty jobs report
We kicked off the new year with a dim December jobs report. Of the net 140,000 jobs lost in the final month of 2020, 100% of them belonged to women. In raw numbers, women lost 156,000 jobs and men gained 16,000 jobs in December 2020. By this point in the pandemic, 55% of net jobs lost since the start of the crisis belonged to women and approximately 2.1 million women had vanished from the labor force. We had plunged back to 1988 levels in terms of labor market equity. This 32-year setback costs the U.S. billions of dollars. Achieving gender equity in the labor market could expand the economy by $789 billion.
2. March 2021: The Atlanta spa shootings
Eight people died, including six women of Asian descent, in a heinous display of aggression at three Atlanta-area spas three months into the new year. The shootings not only evoked fear among Americans of Asian descent but also sparked a nationwide reckoning with the rise of Asian bias. Between March 2020 and February 2021, Stop AAPI Hate received 3,795 reports of anti-Asian discrimination, with women reporting 2.3 times more hate incidences than men.
In the aftermath of the shootings, companies raced to enact safety measures for their Asian American staff. One restaurant owner spent $5,700 per month for private security to assuage the concerns of his employees. Racial bias and hate shouldn’t weigh down the prosperity of our businesses and labor force. Especially not when one in ten U.S. businesses belong to Asian Americans which generated $863 billion in revenue and employed more than 5.1 million people in 2018.
3. March 2021: The American Jobs Plan
Since the 1960s, U.S. domestic public investment as a share of GDP has fallen by over 40%. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which he announced in March, sought to change that. Also known as the Infrastructure Bill, the American Jobs Plan would create or save 15 million jobs all while propelling 21st-century innovation forward.
However, careful analysis showed that women stand to gain only 23.3% of the 15 million jobs created from the Infrastructure Bill. That’s despite the fact that women lost a disproportionate share of jobs during the pandemic. It doesn’t make cents or sense to erect barriers to women’s full economic participation. Since 1970, women’s increased participation in the labor force has returned $2 trillion to the US economy. Achieving gender equity in the labor market would make our economy $789 billion stronger.
4. April 2021: Announcement of withdrawal from Afghanistan
President Biden went on the record in April stating, “It’s time to end the forever war.” The war he referenced was the one in Afghanistan. U.S. troops would leave the country by September 11, 2021. The clumsy execution of this exit reignited the conversation around girls’ right to education under de facto Taliban rule. Considering how GDP per capita increases by 10% for each additional year of education, ensuring girls have access to education would bode bountifully for Afghanistan’s economy.
As it stands, pandemic-related school closures have stolen $17 trillion from students’ future earnings potential and 11 million girls in lower-income countries are at risk of permanently dropping out of school. Afghanistan’s girls don’t need another Taliban-imposed impediment to their education.
5. July 2021: Expanded child tax credit payments
The distribution of the expanded child tax credit under the American Rescue Plan began in the height—and heat—of summer. These payments represent the largest-ever child tax credit relief program in U.S. history, boosting monthly stipends from $2,000 to $3,000 per child for kids ages six and up, and to $3,600 for kids under the age of six.
Research shows that women and people of color benefited most from the expanded child tax credits. These payments, as part of the American Rescue Plan, are projected to lift 4.1 million additional children above the poverty line—1.2 million of them are Black and 1.7 million are Latino children. Our future economy can look forward to reaping the fruits of these tax credits. As household income grows, so too do children’s future earning potential. A child can expect the real value of their future earnings to increase by more than one dollar for each extra dollar of income their household receives via tax credits.
6. August 2021: Cuomo’s resignation
Cuomo announced his resignation in August after being accused of sexually harassing 11 women. Kathy Hochul ascended to his role and became the first female governor of New York. Hochul’s representation as a political leader matters because gender equity in politics matters. Credibility in institutions and integrity in democratic systems grow in tandem with the percent of women in political leadership. Hochul is one of only nine female governors in the U.S. and women hold only 27% of all congressional seats.
7. August 2021: Pete Buttigieg’s parental leave
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg went on paid parental leave in the fall of 2021 to spend time with his husband and twin babies. Some mocked his decision while others applauded him for redefining what it means to “be a man.” More dads wish they could join Buttigieg in taking caregiver leave, but outdated gender narratives hold them back. Less than 5% of new dads take at least two weeks off after the birth of a child even though nearly half of new dads support paid parental leave. Redefining masculinity benefits men (who account for 79% of all suicides in the U.S.), their families, and the economy. In fact, suicide and suicide attempts cost the U.S. $93.5 billion in 2013 alone.
8. October 2021: Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen
As if October isn’t spooky enough, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen sent shivers down the collective psyche of our society when she shared Facebook’s internal research with Congress. A cornerstone of her testimony revolved around teen girls, specifically how 32% of teen girls who feel bad about their bodies said Instagram aggravated their beliefs of corporal incompetence. If even half of the 22 million teens that log on to Instagram each day are girls, that means we are potentially putting 3.52 million teen girls in jeopardy every day, or 17% of all teen girls in the country. In other words, we are putting almost a fifth of our teenage girls at risk for revenue.
Haugen’s testimony underscores the problem of bias in algorithms. In this case, the algorithm (which optimizes for engagement) hardwires the notion that women and girls primarily value their beauty, not intelligence. Yet, our workplaces need women’s brains: women are the most educated cohort in the U.S. Plus, for every 10% increase in gender equity, companies can expect their revenues to increase by 1 to 2%.
9. December 2021: SCOTUS and the Mississippi abortion case
The Supreme Court started hearing arguments over the Mississippi abortion law in December. While we won’t know their decision until 2022, political analysts expect 26 states (which are home to 58% of women in their reproductive years) will seek to ban abortion as soon as possible should Roe be overturned.
Businesses are already buzzing with conversations around how the court’s decision might impact their labor force. Nearly two-thirds of adults with a college degree who are currently in the labor force say they wouldn’t apply for a position in a state with restrictive access to abortion.
And while we can’t predict the future, we can study the past to predict how the Roe decision might hit the economy. Research finds that women who are denied a wanted abortion are less likely to be employed full-time, more likely to live in poverty, and more likely to depend on social assistance programs than women who had wanted abortions. Abortion bans effectively make poor women poorer and strain everyone’s economic capacity.
10. December 2021: Venture capital for female founders
In the first eight months of 2021, companies with solely female founders raised only 2.2% of all VC funding. It’s a pity for investors. Female-founded startups generate 78 cents for every dollar invested in their companies, whereas male-founded startups generate 31 cents for every dollar invested.
It’s also a pity for our economy. Venture capital investments represent 0.2% of US GDP yet create 21% worth of GDP via VC-backed revenues. We must do more to increase women’s participation in entrepreneurship in the year (and decade) ahead.
Katica Roy is the founder and CEO of Pipeline Equity.