Women are disproportionately affected by job losses related to COVID-19

During last year’s COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic fallout that followed, American society was upturned virtually overnight as businesses and their employees rapidly attempted to pivot. Jobs that could be shifted to remote work saw millions of Americans working from home, rather than in the office, while millions more were either let go or saw their hours cut, prompting a nationwide increase in unemployment filings over the past nine months. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 17 million Americans were labeled as “unemployed” during July of 2020, with 57% of them citing unemployment as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic on their place of work. Though we are now in the first month of 2021, millions of Americans are still feeling or recuperating from the adverse effects the pandemic has had on their employment, and one group of American workers is statistically showing signs of being disproportionately affected more than any other group: working women.

According to CNBC, nearly 1.1 million Americans left the country’s workforce between August and September of 2020. Of that number, an overwhelming majority (approximately 865,000) were women - nearly four times the amount of men who left the American workforce during the same period. That same month, a study from consulting giant McKinsey found that women’s jobs were about 1.8% more vulnerable and at-risk because of the pandemic when compared to their male counterparts.

With these findings, much of the social progress made in recent years to close the gender cap has come under threat, with Harvard Business Review warning that “global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030 than it would be if women’s unemployment simply tracked that of men in each sector,” compared to $13 trillion higher by 2030 if immediate action was taken to remedy gender equality in the workplace.

However, one non-profit organization, Women in Sports Tech (WiST), is not only working to help further close the widened gender gap brought on by unemployment during COVID-19, but is doubling-down on its mission to employ, include, and empower more women in the heavily male-dominated sports industry. Founded in 2017 by Marilou McFarlane, Principal of SportsTechWorks, WiST is on a mission to create and pursue transformative opportunities for growth targeted at women looking to start or grow their careers in the sports-tech and innovation landscapes. 

While breaking down barriers and closing the gender employment gap would be considered a daunting task for any one organization to undertake even in a period of economic stability and growth, WiST is not only doing so in a male-dominated space, but has seen an influx of investment and support for its initiatives during the pandemic. One such initiative is the WiST fellowship program, which offers mentorship, industry insight, and real-world employment experience to women in the sports and innovation spaces. Compared to awarding only 4 fellowships in 2019, WiST nearly quadrupled its fellowship count to 15 in 2020, and has set the goal of “21 for ‘21”, meaning WiST is looking to increase its female fellowship count again in 2021 by nearly 50% compared to last year.

“With early support from corporate partners like IBM and Nike, as well as private donations from notable individuals in our business,” says McFarlane, “we have been able to execute on our work at a startups’ breakneck pace in just 3 years, with a ninja army of incredible volunteers. Our flagship initiative is the WiST Fellowship program offering $5K grants for summer internships for college and grad students, giving them meaningful experience and the network they need to succeed. In 2020 we granted 15 awards and, especially during COVID, worked hard with each student and their host company to ensure that their work could be done successfully and virtually.”

McFarlane’s initiatives have undoubtedly solidified WiST as an organization to watch, both in the space of sports industry innovation, as well as diversity and equitable inclusion (DEI) in the non-profits sector. Not afraid to put her - or her organization’s - money where her mouth is, McFarlane has built WiST’s leadership team and Board of Directors out of an incredibly diverse base of individuals, including:

  • Jill Stelfox, Chairman and CEO of Panzura
  • Elizabeth O’Brien, Program Director of WW Sports & Entertainment Partnership Marketing at IBM
  • Jarvis Sam, VP of Global Diversity & Inclusion at Nike
  • Victorie H. Cogevina Reynal, co-founder & CEO of GLORIA

GLORIA is Cogevina's second startup in the soccer space. Her first, SR All Stars, became the first-ever agency in the soccer space to be entirely owned and operated by women and was recognized as such by FIFA in 2018.

"I truly believe in WisT’s mission and I want to be part of its impact,” says Cogevina, “for my mother and for all the girls that may not know it yet, but one day will help shape the future of sport’s tech. I am excited to share my professional and advocacy experience with the WiST team and fellows, as well as making meaningful introductions to world-class investors and partners to help advance your cause."

Indeed, WiST’s mission carries the potential for positive worldwide impact to ensure diverse representation and inclusion for women - and by women - within the realm of sports technology and innovation. Despite the adverse effects that last year’s pandemic has had on working women the world over, WiST stands as a shining beacon of what becomes possible when thought leadership, passion for impact, and a drive for action converge. When asked how others can help partner with WiST, its leadership team, and its rapidly-growing list of emerging female leaders in the realm of sports, McFarlane noted that the best way to help WiST accomplish its mission is to continue growing the non-profits notable list of executive and corporate partners.

“We are eager for contributions from corporate partners and VC’s eager to change the ratio inside their own businesses and we offer unique value to them,” says McFarlane, “including access to our WiST Network career hub, ability to potentially host WiST Fellows at their business, and opportunity to feature their female talent throughout a variety of webinars and experiences we offer to our community.”

WiST aims to become the ultimate global community of women and men that connects women at all experience levels with the business leaders who want to hire them, from internships to board seats. Visit womeninsportstech.org for more information and to learn how you can become the next internship fellow or executive partner at WiST today.