COVID-19 Impacting Women in the Workforce: Local Help Available

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The coronavirus pandemic has taken a major toll on women in the workforce. Tens of thousands of women have lost their jobs; one study found one in four women are considering leaving the workforce or changing their careers altogether.

Action News Jax Anchor Tenikka Hughes talked to a Riverside chef who opened her business during the pandemic and learned more about local resources women can turn to for support.

Chef Natasha Burton had the recipe for success: passion, the perfect location and a product people wanted — pies.

“I got my first Easy Bake Oven for Christmas when I was five years old and I just fell in love with the science of baking.” Burton said, “It’s just so much more rewarding seeing an adult jump up and down over a slice of pie than it is over a salad.”

Chef Burton leased a space in Riverside in January to open her speakeasy-style Mixed Fillings Pie Shop a few months later. But what she and millions around the world did not plan for was COVID-19.

“There was a lot of days where I cried, cause I wasn’t sure how I was even going to pay the rent. I mean, and if it wasn’t for the kindness of the community, and them ... just wanting pie and hearing our story and everything, then we wouldn’t even still be here, to be honest,” Burton said.

The National Women’s Law Center found between August and September, 865,000 women left the workforce compared to 216,000 men.

The pandemic devastated industries that heavily employ women including restaurants, retail, hospitality, and health care.

Another study by McKinsey & Company and Lean In also found one in four women are considering moving into part-time roles, taking a leave of absence or leaving their jobs altogether.

That study detailed some of the factors putting extra pressure on women during the pandemic, including the lack of flexibility at work, not feeling comfortable sharing challenges they are facing, being caregivers, and concerns that their performance will be judged negatively because of their responsibilities at home. The three groups of women facing distinct challenges were mothers, women in senior-level positions, and Black women.

Chef Burton said her husband Curtis left his job during the pandemic to help take care of their children and work at the pie shop full-time. She said, “It truly breaks my heart to know that there are women that are out there that don’t have somebody that they can rely on, somebody that can help them in a situation like this. And because you don’t know where you’re going to, where can you send your children who can take care of your kids so that you can go out and make money? And so my heart is so with them and I sympathize with them.”

For the last 17 years, the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center has received funding from the Small Business Administration to help local women entrepreneurs. Director Jackie Geary said they can also help women looking for work, those wanting to boost their skill sets or even making a career change.

“We all had a halt and we were stopped at what we were normally doing; that included teachers and healthcare workers and such. And we’ve had several people that are actually now pursuing their passion going after that journey that they never thought they could do.” Geary said “So we have provided resources and digital transformation to be able to assist these women wherever they’re at.”

Geary said the pandemic prompted her team to offer more virtual workshops and online training to address new challenges.

“Things have changed, the way we do business has changed. And now we are focusing on financial matters during a pandemic or digital strategy during a pandemic, rather than a blanket marketing matters class,” Geary said.

Chef Burton is trying to do her part too, recently hiring four women to join her team.

Burton’s advice to other women, “Feed into your gifts because we all have so many talents out there that we can make money off of, even just something as simple as just being the person that listens for your friend, listens to your friend, you can build a business off of listening to people. There’s a way to monetize it. And there’s a way to scale it.” Burton said, “Just get the knowledge and just don’t give up.”

You can find more information about the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center, HERE.

Director Geary shared the stories of Dionne Wellington, Charu Raheja, and Rochelle Stoddard --- three local women entrepreneurs who found support and success through the center’s resources. Click on their names to learn more about their businesses.