Women Have Seen Long Retail Careers Crumble In Pandemic : NPR

Diana Newcomb is one of millions of women who built careers in retail. The pandemic tore through their stores, with some 400,000 jobs yet to recover. Newcomb’s is one of them.

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Georgia Stanley /Diana Newcomb

Diana Newcomb is one of millions of women who built careers in retail. The pandemic tore through their stores, with some 400,000 jobs yet to recover. Newcomb’s is one of them.

Georgia Stanley /Diana Newcomb

When Diana Newcomb looks back at a retail job she had in the 1970s, it sounds bonkers. She and other 20-somethings would sit in the office of a Rhode Island department store and tally sales stubs by hand. They would note sales in a ledger, like this: five pairs of boys size 6 Levi’s — sold.

“I was renting a garage apartment and living off of canned vegetables and Triscuits,” she says and laughs. “You know, I thought I was being independent. I was at that point.”

Newcomb is one of millions of women who built careers stitching together work like this. Retail is the most common job in America, and women hold the majority of jobs in clothing and department stores and gift and souvenir shops. They run cash registers everywhere. About a fifth tend to be 55 and older.

The pandemic recession tore through their stores. Thousands have shuttered. Major chains have gone bankrupt, including storied ones like Neiman Marcus, Brooks Brothers, Lord & Taylor. As other stores reopened, many workers, especially those who are older, felt afraid to put their health at risk. Almost 400,000 lost retail jobs have yet to recover. Newcomb’s is one of them.

“This is one of those times in life that you just don’t see coming,” Newcomb says. Now 67, she’s faced several personal crises on top of the pandemic, including a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Over the years, she has worked what she calls odd jobs: in a restaurant kitchen, at a salvage shop she ran with her husband in Oregon. She got an interior design degree, but time and again came back to sales work: a furniture store, then J.C. Penney. Newcomb was in her 60s when she and her husband separated.

Feeling lost, she did what she knew she could do well: retail. Newcomb got an apartment with her daughter, tied a nice old scarf around her neck and walked to Macy’s at a nearby outdoor mall. She got hired for the holidays and stayed — and soon got promoted to handbag specialist.

Store closing signs are posted at a Sur La Table kitchenware store on Sept. 22 in Los Angeles. Thousands of retail stores across the country have closed during the pandemic.

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Store closing signs are posted at a Sur La Table kitchenware store on Sept. 22 in Los Angeles. Thousands of retail stores across the country have closed during the pandemic.

Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty

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Successful Women Are Sidelining Careers For Family In Pandemic : NPR

Joyce Chen, an associate professor of development economics at the Ohio State University, has had to put her research on hold this year to oversee her children’s virtual schooling. Chen is also teaching virtually this fall.

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Joyce Chen, an associate professor of development economics at the Ohio State University, has had to put her research on hold this year to oversee her children’s virtual schooling. Chen is also teaching virtually this fall.

Jessica Phelps for NPR

Joyce Chen had big plans for this year. She was working on multiple research projects with an eye on the prize: a promotion to full professor at the Ohio State University.

That’s when the pandemic hit. It put the brakes on four years of hard work as an associate professor. And now she wonders if her promotion will happen as she had hoped for next year.

Chen is part of a rarefied group of accomplished women who are tenured professors in economics. But she has now joined millions of working moms who have sidelined their work in the pandemic, stepping back from hard-earned careers to take care of the overwhelming needs at home.

“It’s almost impossible to do research in these kinds of circumstances,” says Chen, a mother of three. “There’s always something going on, and somebody needs something, or something’s not working.”

Chen’s son Campbell (left) climbs on the couch as he becomes restless while doing school work at home.

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Chen’s son Campbell (left) climbs on the couch as he becomes restless while doing school work at home.

Jessica Phelps for NPR

While working fathers have not been spared in the pandemic, data collected by the Labor Department indicate that it’s largely mothers who are dealing with children who are not in school full-time this fall. In September, 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce — four times as many as men. Countless others like Chen are struggling to get anything done.

For highly educated, high-income women, the so-called “mom penalty” can be severe. Stepping down the career ladder puts promotions, future earning power and also their roles as leaders at risk.

Chen is well aware of the challenges women are already up against. Last fall, she co-authored a study on the gender pay gap at Ohio State. She took on the project after fighting and winning her own pay equity case, resulting in a 20% bump in her salary. Chen found female professors at the university earn 11% less than their male counterparts, translating to a loss of close to $18,000 a year.

This year, because of the pandemic, Chen has missed out on grant opportunities and turned down collaborations. She hasn’t submitted any papers for publication. Her research is on indefinite hold.

“That’s something that’s going to ripple out through your entire career,” Chen says.

Joyce Chen and her children Campbell, 7, Bryn, 12, and Emerson, 10.

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I’m a chief human resources officer at an over 70,000-person company where 72% of staff are women. Here’s how we’re making sure they’re supported in their careers.



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  • Maxine Carrington is deputy chief human resources officer at Northwell Health, New York’s largest healthcare system and private employer.
  • She says that while the pandemic is hopefully short-lived, the impact that it’s had on working mothers in the workplace will not be.
  • Employers need to step up and support women where they are, from focusing on their well-being to offering backup care options.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It’s not easy for women to juggle work and family under the best of circumstances. As the pandemic enters its ninth month of devastation, it threatens to reverse a generation of gains for women in the workforce. A September report from McKinsey found that one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely.

The research is clear: While COVID-19 itself is hopefully short-lived, its impact on women’s careers may last for years — if not decades. 

As deputy chief human resource officer at Northwell Health, I’m aware of the tough decisions our employees are facing right now. About 72% of our workforce is female, and I’ve seen firsthand how women are now grappling with caregiving responsibilities. This was an issue before COVID-19. Women’s careers have traditionally taken a back seat to their partners’ once they have kids.



a person posing for the camera: Maxine Carrington. Courtesy of Maxine Carrington


© Courtesy of Maxine Carrington
Maxine Carrington. Courtesy of Maxine Carrington

But the pandemic has worsened this trend, as women are spending more and more hours navigating their kids’ Zoom calls instead of their own. A survey conducted this spring found that, on average, women were spending 65 hours a week on domestic responsibilities, compared with 35 hours pre-COVID. That’s the equivalent of a second job.

Companies have historically viewed caregiving responsibilities — whether it’s for children or aging parents — as something employees needed to navigate on their own. But we have a responsibility to help them shoulder the burden and not just because it’s the right thing to do. If we don’t, we may lose talented employees. Here’s what companies can do to better support women:

  • Have backup care available. Most of our employees need to be here in person, attending to patients. This was especially true when the worst of the pandemic hit in March and April. We had existing programs for emergency situations, like inclement weather, that we expanded when schools and daycares were closed. We set up subsidized childcare centers, where employees could drop children off for care — including remote learning — at a substantial discount. All companies should find ways to support parents. This could include letting people work from home and/or allowing parents to have a more flexible schedule so they can take time during the day to focus on their children.   
  • Focus on female employees’ well-being. Northwell prides itself on having holistic offerings that focus on self-care and well-being, like an emotional support hotline and virtual cooking and fitness classes. We want to encourage women to take care of themselves. If they are
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Nontraditional Careers For Women – Female Jockeys Gaining Ground

The first thing I can remember wanting to be when I grew up was a jockey. Well, that obviously didn't happen, but I do wish there was a "fantasy jockey" camp, similar to what they have for baseball – I'd be the first to sign up!

Being a jockey was a nontraditional career for a woman when I was a kid, and it still is today. About 10% of professional thoroughbred jockeys are women; the Department of Labor defines a nontraditional field for women as one in which 25% or less of those employed are female.

As in other male-dominated fields, the women who pioneered in racing faced many challenges. The first woman jockey to ride in a pari-mutuel race was Diane Crump, in February 1969 at Hialeah, but she wasn't the first to try. When Penny Ann Early attempted to enter three races at Churchill Downs in 1968, she was prevented from riding because the other jockeys boycotted the races. Barbara Jo Rubin faced not only boycotts, but a bricks thrown through her trailer window, when she entered a race at Tropical Park in January of 1969. However, Rubin did become the first female jockey to win a race on February 22 of that year when she won at Charles Town. Rubin was forced to retire about a year later due to injuries; However in her brief career of 89 races she won 22 times and was in the money 20 more times. Diane Crump made history again in 1970 when she became the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby. She won over 230 races before she retired in 1985.

Although the number of women jockeys is still quite low, they race in a very different environment than the pioneering women jockeys did. The first women jockeys faced the prejudice and hostility of their male colleagues, who did not want women racing against them. The men would sometimes cut them off or commit other violations, which were ignored by the race officials. They would even slash them with their whips! (The irony of this is that one of the concerns of the male riders was that they felt racing was too dangerous and the women would get hurt!)

Diane Crump was invited to compete in a match race in Puerto Rico. The male jockey riding against her did everything he possibly could to unseat her from her mount, including grabbing her saddle cloth, knocking her foot from the stirrup, and grabbing her reins. Crump fought back by cracking him on the head with her whip, but he wound up winning the race by a length. However, the women in the crowd cheered Diane and cursed and threw rotten tomatoes at the male jockey!

The early women jockeys also faced opposition from the jockeys' wives, who were uncomfortable that the women would see their men in various states of undress, even though dressing quarters were separate. As a matter of fact, there were no women's dressing quarters – …

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