2021: Win, Lose, or Draw?
December 9, 2021
The year 2021 was a mixed bag for women, with momentous gains notched alongside disheartening losses.
On the plus side, we saw the first woman – who is also the first woman of color – sworn in as Vice President of the United States. We saw a historic number of women take their seats in Congress, in the President’s Cabinet, as mayors of large cities, and in state legislatures. We saw a record number of women hired to lead key news outlets.
On the loss side, we saw the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbate the gender inequalities that had already existed. “Women disproportionately lost jobs, disproportionately reduced their work hours, and disproportionately increased the time they spent on child care and household responsibilities,” said Andrea Kramer, a lawyer who advises organizations on how to achieve a truly diverse workplace.
Indeed, the pandemic hit women much harder than men as close to 2 million women were forced to drop out of the workforce, usually because of childcare issues. It’s unclear how many of these women will return to the workplace.
The pandemic also led to a decline in women being hired for leadership roles – a painful step back.
As we look forward to welcoming a new year, here is a more detailed listing of some of the most important gains and losses for American women during 2021.
- Kamala Harris, the first woman and first woman of color, is sworn in as Vice President.
- A record number of women (144), including a record number of women of color (49), take their seats in the 117th Congress.
- The most gender- and color-diverse Cabinet of the last four U.S. presidents is selected. President Biden’s Cabinet-level appointees are nearly 46 percent female, while 50 percent are people of color. One of those appointees is Deb Haaland, the former congresswoman from New Mexico, who was sworn in as Secretary of the Interior in March 2021, the first Native American in history to head a Cabinet-level agency.
- A Gender Policy Council, which for the first time reports directly to the President, is created.
- A historic number of women of color are elected as mayors of big cities, including Boston. Women also gain record power in state legislatures across the country.
- Women now lead key news outlets in the U.S.
- Two powerful women philanthropists team up to direct $40 million to advancing the power and influence of American women over the next decade.
- Pandemic Fallout: Burnout in the workplace for working women.
- Millions of women, mostly mothers, drop out of the workplace during the pandemic. Childcare issues are the main reason.
- The pandemic spurs a decline of women hired into leadership roles, undoing years of progress.
- The 2021 Global Gender Gap Report says U.S. women won’t reach pay equity with men for at least 60 years.
- Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, is married in November in a small religious ceremony at her home in England, nearly a decade after she was shot in the head by the Taliban as a teenager in Pakistan for campaigning for a right to education for women and girls.
- The first girls in the United States become Eagle Scouts. It only took 100 years.
Jan Collins is a Columbia, South Carolina-based journalist, editor, and author. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard and former Congressional Fellow in Washington, D. C., she is the coauthor of Next Steps: A Practical Guide to Planning for the Best Half of Your Life (Quill Driver Books, 2009).