The Economic Impact of Coronavirus on Women is 'Devastating' and Exacerbating Gender Inequality, Says Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg

Because women are likely to bear the brunt of the coronavirus-related recession, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg said she sees the global health crisis as a wake-up call for the country to address long-existing gender inequalities.

"The impact is devastating," Sandberg told Newsweek, pointing to research from her women's organization Lean In. "You know how they say never waste a crisis? We need to not waste this moment to fix the structural problems that women face."

The survey, released this week, showed that more than a third of women report being laid off or furloughed, or receiving pay cuts because of the coronavirus outbreak. The disparity is even greater among women of color, as black women are twice as likely to report these financial issues as white men.

That's not to say that economic inequality wasn't prevalent long before the novel coronavirus appeared. Data shows women are already making 20 cents less on average for every dollar that a man earns. The difference is even greater for women of color: Black women earn 62 cents on the dollar and Hispanic women, 54 cents. Over the course of a 40-year career, women stand to lose more than $400,000 due to the current pay gap.

But the global health crisis is likely to make the matter far worse, new research indicates. A paper from researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Mannheim in Germany and the University of California, San Diego concluded that the "COVID-19 pandemic will have a disproportionate negative effect on women and their employment opportunities."

Lean In's research echoes those findings: Nearly two-thirds of employed women said that if they lost their personal income, they wouldn't be able to pay for basic necessities for more than three months. Fewer than half of employed men surveyed said the same.

"What this is showing us is that the structural inequities for women and women of color—there are lower-paying jobs, there is a massive pay gap, they do more child care at home, they are more susceptible to domestic violence—this crisis is exacerbating all of them," Sandberg said.

coronavirus pandemic gender inequality
A woman and child wear face masks while walking past shuttered downtown shops amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 4, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. Getty/Mario Tama

Last month, Congress passed a historic $2 trillion stimulus package to help the nation rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation has a few key provisions for struggling families and workers but doesn't include anything to alleviate the gender pay disparity.

On the top of Sandberg's policy wish list? Passing a universal paid family leave bill, a paid sick leave bill and fixing the wage gap.

"These programs from the government level are designed to help the most vulnerable. Well, we need to be clear who the most vulnerable are and the most vulnerable are so often women and women of color," she said.

As for Facebook's role in the crisis, the COO said the company is "aggressively" working to provide accurate information and remove misguided posts. Facebook has been working with the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create its COVID-19 information center, she said.

The social media giant has also created a $100 million grant program for small businesses around the world. Slightly less than half of those grants, or $40 million, has been earmarked for businesses owned by women, minorities or veterans.

"We know we're well-funded. We have an opportunity to support small businesses in everything we do," Sandberg said. "We all need to do our part."

LeanIn.org's findings are from a SurveyMonkey Audience poll conducted online from April 1 to April 3 among a total sample of 2,986 adults ages 18 and over living in the United States. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 2 percentage points.