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Here’s how to reverse the pandemic’s hit to women’s employment gains

March 18, 2022, 10:39 AM UTC

Good morning.

I spent last evening at a 600-person dinner (remember those?) hosted by Catalyst CEO Lorraine Hariton to honor her organization’s 60th anniversary. Catalyst has played a critical role over the past six decades advancing women in business. But the event also was a reminder of the backsliding that occurred during the pandemic.

Speaking at a CEO briefing before the dinner, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo noted that “in less than a year, the U.S. erased more than 30 years of women’s employment gains due to COVID. Four million women dropped out of the workforce. And unfortunately, caregiving responsibilities have kept a lot of women out of the workforce or have kept them not fully engaged in the workforce. And that is doubly, triply true for women of color and women without a college degree who work especially in, say, retail and hospitality.”

I asked Raimondo and Accenture CEO Julie Sweet, chair of the Catalyst board, what’s needed to reverse the slide. In response, they focused on two critical issues: childcare and training. On training—which I have argued here before is one of the great challenges of our times—both agreed that business and government cooperation was essential. 

“I would argue business has to be at the center of it,” Raimondo said. “I understand that when you think of training, you think the Department of Labor or a community college or nonprofit training partners should be at the center of it. But that approach doesn’t work. It leads to a lot of money being spent on training and not necessarily a lot of jobs. So you can start with the jobs and work backward. And the absolute best way to do this is learn while you earn…because most people can’t afford to give up their day job to get retrained.”

Sweet described steps her company is taking to encourage that approach. “In the U.S., 20% of our entry-level hiring this year will be apprenticeships. And these are in general 60% to 70% from diverse backgrounds…and about 50% women. Most of our apprentices are coming from two-year degrees—some high school—and most of them go on to get four-year degrees.” She also highlighted her company’s change in job postings, to focus on skills rather than degrees. “About 50% of our job openings today do not require a four-year degree. And we hire about 20% to 25% without four-year degrees. We have moved entirely to skills-based recruiting.”

On a separate topic, I asked Raimondo about business actions over the past three weeks to cut off ties with Russia. Her response:

“I’m very proud of the American businesses who are stepping up to do the right thing. No one should be ashamed to be patriotic. And I think it’s making a difference…And I will say, it is also in their long-term business interest. Democracy, freedom, open markets, open society, not authoritarian governmentsthat’s all good for business.”

More news below. And to prepare yourself for next week’s news, read Declan Harty’s take on the new climate disclosure rules expected to be issued by the SEC.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray

alan.murray@fortune.com

TOP NEWS

Biden and Xi

Presidents Biden and Xi will have a direct discussion today that might prove pivotal. The U.S. leader will, his officials say, tell his Chinese counterpart that active support for Russia in Ukraine would draw some kind of American retaliation. Financial Times

Russian debt

Turns out Russia can make dollar-denominated sovereign-debt interest payments after all, at least for now. So no default just yet. Fortune

Chinese billionaires

The latest Hurun Global Rich List is out, and China still has the world’s most billionaires. However, they’ve been hit hard by tightened regulation, and 160 have dropped off the billionaire list. Fortune

COVID measures

China’s President Xi has indicated a possible shift in the country’s COVID-zero strategy, in a bid to minimize the economic impact of anti-COVID measures. This is the first time he’s emphasized minimizing that aspect of the pandemic fight-back. Bloomberg

AROUND THE WATERCOOLER

Rescuing people

Jeremy Kahn has a piece on how a Scottish satellite-launching startup is trying to help the families of Ukrainian coworkers—who were visiting Scotland at the time of the invasion—get out of Ukraine. The firm is led by Ukraine-born Volodymyr Levykin: “I said, ‘Stay here, and we will do our best to move your families abroad.’” Fortune

Bitcoin bull

Fossil fuel investor Greg Beard turned to Bitcoin mining, and he reckons the OG cryptocurrency will be worth at least $200,000 by the spring of 2027. Fortune

Crypto woes

People lost a bunch of money in the latest hack of decentralized finance platforms; this time the victims were Agave and Hundred Finance. Agave customer Shegenerates, who lost over $225,000: “When I logged on [Tuesday] morning, it showed that the interest rate was nearly 100% and all of the deposited funds were borrowed. ‘Uh-oh,’ I thought, ‘That’s weird.’” Fortune

Satellite threat

The FBI and cybersecurity agency CISA have warned satellite communications providers and their customers that now’s a great time to boost their security, because of geopolitical tensions. A cyberattack at the start of the invasion caused outages in Central and Eastern Europe. Bleeping Computer

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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