The novel coronavirus outbreak has imperiled millions of financially vulnerable Americans, many of whom have joined food bank lines or created GoFundMe pages — and new research suggests the hardship could be especially difficult for women.
In a newly released interview, Facebook (FB) Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg says the crisis is a “wake-up call” for the U.S. to address longstanding problems, like the gender pay gap and domestic violence, that put women at heightened economic risk.
“We have to fix them so that when these moments hit, we are better prepared and people are better taken care of,” says Sandberg, author of the 2013 New York Times bestseller “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.”
“Now, that matters every single day, but boy, does it matter more now,” adds Sandberg, who spoke with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a Skype interview from her home on Tuesday. “Because you have less savings, you have less ability to earn and so these problems we have that hit our most vulnerable — domestic violence, pay gaps — this is a wake-up call to fix them.”
Women make just $0.81 for every dollar a man makes, according to a report released on Tuesday by PayScale. On average, women stand to make $900,000 less than their male counterparts over the course of their careers — and even when researchers controlled for job title, years of experience, and other factors, the earnings gap remains $80,000, the report found.
Domestic violence, an issue that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says affects one in four women over their lifetimes, has become an even more pressing concern as stay-at-home orders force hundreds of millions of Americans into their homes. Economic vulnerability can be worsened by domestic violence, and financial dependence can make women more likely to remain in abusive relationships, according to a summary of studies released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in 2016.
On Wednesday, researchers called for more data on the gender-based effects of the coronavirus crisis, citing early evidence that suggests women face higher levels of domestic violence and unpaid care work as a result of the outbreak.
Sandberg noted that March 31 is Equal Pay Day, which marks the duration of time women have to work into 2020 in order to take in the same salary that men did in 2019.
“If you're a black woman, or Latina, it's even worse,” Sandberg says. “Your Equal Pay Day is months from now.”
Sandberg made the remarks during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
She took over as the COO at Facebook in 2008, before which she worked as vice president of global online sales at Google (GOOG, GOOGL). During the Clinton administration, she worked as chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases, as of Wednesday, rose to more than 200,000 in the U.S., as the worldwide total surpassed 911,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of people diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. has grown dramatically since March 1, when there were roughly 100 confirmed cases.
The coronavirus outbreak requires a dramatic and speedy response from public officials and the private sector, Sandberg said.
“The government needs a swift and thorough and deep response on the health front and on the economic front,” Sandberg says. “So does business as well.”
In March, Sandberg and other Silicon Valley luminaries launched a $5.5 million coronavirus food bank fund.
“We have to think about not just the crisis in terms of health and the crisis in terms of jobs, but the immediate basic needs that people have like food,” she adds.