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OP-ED: The Power of Us: As women bear the brunt of COVID-19’s economic crisis, it is more important than ever to band together

COVID-19 has affected nearly everybody, from all walks of life, but it has exacted a particularly acute economic toll on women.

Women make up a bigger percentage of employees in industries hard-hit by layoffs, such as hospitality and food service. Women-owned small businesses are shuttering at steep rates, and increased caregiving responsibilities are falling upon women’s shoulders.

Many writers and publications have even taken to calling the current economic climate a “she-cession.”

If ever there was a time to connect and come together as a community of women and our allies, it is now, even at a time when COVID-19 is keeping us apart.

The Texas Conference for Women will provide a unique forum for this. The Conference will enable women to connect and gain valuable insights as it continues its tradition of women supporting women on October 1, when thousands of women from Texas and beyond will come together virtually.

This year’s Conference will address urgent needs through offerings such as job recruitment, networking opportunities, career coaching and a virtual women-owned business marketplace. It also will continue with its 21-year history of driving important discussions around systemic shortfalls such as pay gaps, lack of adequate childcare, and the dearth of women running major corporations.

Fellow Texan Melinda Gates will address these issues as one of this year’s keynotes. A global champion for women, and co-founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest private charitable organization in the world, she is focused on the need right now to help women, who play a central role in our economic recovery.

For several years, the Texas Conference for Women theme has been “The Power of Us.” It is a fitting mantra for women and our allies as we tackle COVID-19’s unique challenges.

The fact is, women account for a greater percentage of U.S. job losses since the pandemic began, as industries that typically employ more women than men suffer deep losses. Even as the economy begins to sputter back to life, unemployment among women remains at historically high levels, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Meanwhile women are more likely to be impacted by increased caregiving obligations from shuttered schools and day care centers. Two out of every three women in the United States are caregivers to children, seniors or adults with additional needs, according the Centers for Disease Control. COVID-19 has increased those responsibilities, which the CDC says can lead to physical and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Women-owned small businesses in the United States have been more heavily impacted by the pandemic and are less optimistic about their recovery, according to a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And from February to April, women-owned small businesses dropped by 25 percent, a larger decrease than the overall percentage, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The situation is even worse for small businesses owned by women of color.

In another instance of women helping women during these challenging times, the Texas Conference for Women donated $150,000 to the Texas Restaurant Association to disburse grants to more than 60 women-owned restaurants across the state of Texas. Just one of many industries devastated by COVID-19, Texas restaurants have lost more than 700,000 jobs due to the pandemic, and restaurants have been forced to lay off hundreds of thousands of employees, many of them women.

This is the time for as many acts of kindness and generosity as possible. It also is time for initiatives to boost women’s representation in the workplace and for policies to ensure gender fairness in all areas.

The Texas Conference for Women is a community of support, network, connection, and opportunity where women can still – even in a time of physical separation – be heard and seen.

As we face down this virus, we must tap into “The Power of Us and come together. However that may look.

Jane Gasdaska, of Houston, is Change Management Lead for Phillips 66 and Tamara Fields is Austin Office Managing Director and South Market Unit Director of Operations for Accenture. Both are on the Texas Conference for Women Board of Directors. Tickets for the Texas Conference for Women are available at https://www.txconferenceforwomen.org.