By now, negative headlines about female employment over the past two years tell a familiar story. Many women, who already bore responsibility for the majority of unpaid domestic labor, were forced by the pandemic to retreat from their roles in the professional world.
In workplaces across the country, women lost their incomes, their independence and their hard-won professional identities. They left jobs or were fired, reduced their hours or gave up promotions — all as part of what is now sometimes referred to as the “she-cession.” Women still have yet to recoup their pandemic job losses, and today more than a million women are still missing from the labor force.
But this loss of employment wasn’t the case for everyone. Some women were able to find new careers — and professional purpose — in the midst of this upheaval.
At the beginning of the pandemic, of the frontline jobs deemed essential by the government to keeping society running, one in three was held by a woman. Over the past two years, female employment in traditionally male-dominated fields such as construction, warehousing and utilities has surged for the first time in almost a decade, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics.
Together, this data points to a changing labor market as women stepped up at a moment of crisis and filled in critical gaps.
In a series of upcoming articles to be published throughout March, we’ll tell three stories of women who found new careers in the midst of the pandemic.
These stories include a construction worker who builds accessible homes; a doula who started a service to support low-income women through the birthing process, at a time when maternal mortality rates among some of the most vulnerable women increased sharply; and an emergency dispatcher who joined the profession at a moment when 911 call centers struggled to recruit and retain staff.
Each of these stories illustrates how a moment of crisis led to an individual’s reassessment of her professional possibilities, even as we all continue to reconfigure our lives, at home and at work, within the shifting boundaries of an ongoing pandemic. Together, they represent the women who sought out new professions during this time and, in doing so, built new lives.
This series is part of a technology partnership with Google Pixel exploring the journalistic applications of smartphone photography.
The Times maintains full editorial independence. Technology partners have no control over the reporting or editing process and do not review stories before publication.