In April, as the COVID-19 lockdowns took hold around the country, female employment slumped by 325,000 roles. While a staggering number in itself, it was also worse than the 269,300 jobs lost by men.
Five months on as the nation begins the slow recovery from the first recession in almost 30 years, Sydney charity Dress for Success is on the front line of the aftereffects of the pandemic’s devastation to the labour market amid rising competition for fewer jobs.
Formed almost a decade ago, Dress for Success helps disadvantaged women get back into the workforce by providing clothes and makeup, but also interview support such as resume writing and workshops to give the skills and confidence to get out and look for a job.
“We used to have all of our workshops, presenters come here and do classroom style seminars for the clients, but within two weeks of COVID we went onto online platforms for that,” says Dress for Success chairperson & treasurer Vicki Hartley. “And throughout COVID we've been seeing over two hundred women a month attending seminars, which is actually more than we were seeing before.
“We are also actually doing pack-and-send parcels, which is a way we're carrying on servicing our clients in the COVID environment.”
Justin Smirk, a senior economist at Westpac, said COVID-19 had more heavily impacted the marginal, or least attached, sectors of the workforce, such as people working part-time or casual, the youth and women. He said there were several benefits of getting women back in the workforce, including that it spreads “the growth more broadly across the economy rather than focusing on a few sectors”.
“COVID made me feel like I was the bottom of the barrel – there's so many very qualified people as business analysts who have 10 years experience that had lost their jobs,” says Emilia Drew, a Dress for Success client.
“Who wants to hire someone who's an older person without recent graduation and minimal experience?
“(But) They helped me, and they helped my three children and my mum. Just to have a job opened up opportunities for me.”