Michelle W Bowman: Welcoming remarks

Speech (via webcast) by Ms Michelle W Bowman, Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, at the Women in Banking Symposium at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia, 19 October 2021.

The views expressed in this speech are those of the speaker and not the view of the BIS.

Central bank speech  | 
05 November 2021

Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be able to join you today for this conversation, and as a bank regulator and former banker, I am pleased that this conference is making the case for diversity in terms that everyone in business can understand. At any time, but especially now when attracting and keeping skilled and talented employees is so challenging, it only makes sense that you'll get the best employees if both men and women see a business with diverse leadership, and the opportunity to advance. And when a large share of your customers are women, when understanding their perspective is so important to your business, having women in leadership positions will help you serve these customers better and make you a more profitable and successful enterprise.

In the year and a half since the pandemic began, life has changed in many ways, deeply impacting how we work and how we spend our time and money. The effects of these changes on the economy have been significant. So today, I would like to focus my discussion on how all of this has affected women in the labor market. Of course work has changed for nearly everyone in the labor force, but for women, the changes have arguably been greater during this time than any other since World War II. Back then, millions of women entered the workforce to step into roles historically reserved for men, and this time millions left the workforce to deal with school closures and other changes to home life caused by the pandemic. One question is how durable these changes may be. Therefore, today, I will also consider how these shifts may affect women's long-term financial prospects and will end with ideas about potential ways to make it easier for women to join or rejoin the workforce.

Effects of the Pandemic on Women's Employment

When considering the level of employment, I tend to focus on both the unemployment rate and the labor force participation rate. Let's start with the unemployment rate. The economic and social distancing restrictions imposed at the onset of the pandemic resulted in enormous job losses, with the unemployment rate surging from 3.5 percent in February, which was a 50-year low, to 14.8 percent in April 2020. Women were affected more than men, which is a change from previous recessions, when men typically suffered greater job losses than women. In February 2020, the unemployment rate for women was slightly lower than for men, but by April it had risen to 16.1 percent, compared to 13.6 percent for men. That difference continued only until September, but this statistic does not reveal the fact that many women were leaving the workforce, and therefore not counted in unemployment. Their labor force participation fell more than the participation rate for men and at last count, there were two million fewer women in the labor force than before the pandemic. The difference in employment for men and women held true across some minority groups.