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2020 was a hard year—and I think we can all agree that's putting it lightly. But between a global pandemic, the worldwide shutdown that resulted from it, and the stress from a recent landmark election, just imagine that, during all of that, you lost your job, too.
For millions of Americans, unemployment was a new and unexpected reality. “Millions” isn’t an exaggeration, either; it’s estimated that nearly 30 million jobs were lost as a direct result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with women being disproportionately affected since the start of the pandemic.
Facts and figures might relay the vastness of the issue, but they don't relay the personal experiences of the people who are included in them. What are these women doing now? What steps are they taking to recover (or pivot) their careers? What advice would they give to others who are going through the same experience? Keep reading to hear the answers to these questions and more, straight from five women who lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Sharon Fernandez, 22, hairstylist
Fernandez was working as a hairstylist in Los Angeles before she was laid off in March. “I remember that around the last [few] days of February, we all were nervous about what we were seeing in the news, and we all had that uncertainty of what was going to happen,” she tells HelloGiggles. Then came the statewide shutdown, and Fernandez was laid off. “I cried,” she says. She had just moved to L.A. five months earlier, and finding a job had not been easy.
Because of an issue with unemployment, Fernandez had to keep working in order to make rent, so she began delivering food for Postmates and Grubhub. “Honestly, I didn't like it, so I kept looking for jobs,” she says. “I was thousand of miles from home. No job, no money, no going out for anything. I felt I was going crazy. I felt so depressed, so much anxiety.”
Luckily, Fernandez found a job through a friend, working as a receptionist at another hair salon. Now that the urgency of her job search is in hindsight, she has advice to offer, and it’s all about viewing free time as freedom. “I would say there's always a solution for everything,” she says. “We all hate this situation, but I think that this pandemic got everyone out of their comfort zone, so seize it. Start a new business from home, create a brand, do a blog, do exercise at home or outdoors...We have so much time now that we usually don't.”
Brenda Cervantes, 23, proofreader
Brenda Cervantes was a proofreader for a publishing company before she was laid off. “Since the shutdown of the pandemic started in March, everyone was told to work from home (myself being one of them). After a month of working from home, I saw a decrease in work every day. As I watched work slow down, I feared the day the company would start laying off people,” she says. That day came in April, when she was officially let go. “This was the first time ever that I had been laid off from a job. I was upset, stressed, and, for some reason, guilty for being one of the employees who got laid off," she says.
She’s been looking for a new job since late July. “I waited for months to pass before I started looking for work because I was positive that my work would give me a callback,” she says. Since then, she’s only received a few interviews. “Before the pandemic, when I would job search, I would receive nonstop calls from positions or calls from recruiters. Now it's a dead zone. I am the one that is reaching out to recruiters for help or companies to hear the status of my application. And it's totally understandable due to these uncertain times, but it affects your self-esteem, and it's difficult to turn down that little voice in your head that tells you you won't find a job,” she explained.
Cervantes is still unemployed, and the advice from her partner is what’s helping her through. “‘Don't let losing a job affect our entire life,'" she says. “The more I repeat it in my head, the more it makes sense. A job is not my entire life; I still have my loved ones, a home, health, and life. I treasure this extra time I have to myself to figure [out] and discover who I am. Yes, I have my down moments, but I also try to make the most out of everything to keep myself going.”
Her advice to others who are in a similar situation is to view this challenge as an opportunity for growth. “Don't over-stress about something you can't control,” Cervantes says. “I know it sucks and feels weird not having a job, but the most you can make out of it is staying positive. At times we may find it easier to complain and stay depressed, but this attitude is not going to help you gain a job. These challenging moments in life are what we make [of them]. Because when you look back, these challenges are what help you grow.”
Ashleigh Gray, 29, exotic dancer
Ashleigh Gray was an exotic dancer before she was laid off due to the pandemic. “My job was one of the last nightclub establishments to shut down here in Los Angeles,” she says. “I guess I had a hunch that we’d close soon because other places were closing around us. I remember asking my manager what it would take for us to close, and he casually said, ‘Maybe a declaration of a national emergency.’ March 15th was the last time I worked.” Her initial reaction was panic.
Gray turned to OnlyFans for financial help. “I never wanted to be an OnlyFans content creator, but that was the first option I took to supplement income,” she says. “I didn’t like doing it because of the lack of protections. Once I realized I could collect unemployment benefits (because my club hired me as an employee versus an independent contractor), I stopped.”
Since then, she’s been pursuing a writing career. “I’ve been applying to writing jobs. It hasn’t been fruitful, but I will say I’ve become more confident in writing cover letters and putting myself out there,” she says. “Moving to freelance writing has been a struggle because it’s difficult to constantly come up with compelling stories to convince editors to publish. I’m just not used to doing it so frequently.”
The internet has been her biggest help. “I’ve generally been inspired by people on the internet who’ve used this time to create something out of nothing. I’ve seen entrepreneurs and creatives start businesses from scratch, so that shows me anything is possible,” she says. It’s only fitting, then, that Gray has taken to expanding her professional network. “I’ve joined writing collectives to build relationships with other women in the field and strengthen my pitch game,” she says. “I’m always searching and following editors on Twitter to keep an eye out for calls for pitches and, of course, cold-emailing.”
“There are resources out there to support us (rental and utility subsidies, loan deferments, etc.). Look for them, take advantage, and apply,” she continues. “Get creative, and use your social media to market whatever skill set you have. Keep applying for jobs, even if it feels useless.”
Jennifer Welsh, 36, editor-in-chief
For some women, being laid off inspired feelings of relief as well as fear and uncertainty. Take Jennifer Welsh’s experience, for example. She is a 36-year-old former editor-in-chief for a network of tech websites who was laid off in March. “Before this happened, the idea of losing my job or being let go was one of my biggest fears,” she says. “I had so much anxiety around it. I've been lucky that this is the first media job I've been let go from, but [I've] had this ever-present anxiety that my work wasn't ever good enough, that I wasn’t working hard enough, and that it was just a matter of time. Now that it's happened, it wasn't that bad.”
While things are “totally up in the air,” and she doesn’t have another full-time job yet, Welsh says she feels confident that things will work out. “I'm in a very privileged position to be able to say that. We have savings, a low cost of living, family support if we need it, and I got a generous severance and unemployment. In all honesty, I was a little relieved to be let go. It was impossible to think about anything other than COVID at that time," she says. Welsh had only been back at work for two months after 12 weeks of maternity leave before she was let go. "It was kind of a gift to be given additional time to spend with the baby. She was just five months old, and I was still breastfeeding, so I was relieved to be able to put the pump away," she says.
After pressing pause for a few months, Welsh began freelancing. “Some of the part-time and contract gigs I applied to have worked out, so I have a couple of small anchor clients and assignments. Thankfully, I am still eligible for unemployment benefits, so that's keeping us afloat,” she says. “There's so much competition for every open job, every call for pitches, every gig—I feel lucky to have found the few places I'm in now. As someone with impostor syndrome and anxiety around professional feedback, freelancing is kind of an emotional rollercoaster. You get a high when you get a new gig or assignment, then promptly start freaking out about it. You feel great when you've dug in and sent out a draft, but then you're anxiously waiting to hear back—are they taking so long because it's terrible or because they don't have any notes? Are they going to hire me again because I made that mistake? The high competition due to the layoffs and recession just magnifies those fears.”
The main piece of advice Welsh has to offer to herself and to others is simple yet impactful: Make connections. “The piece of advice I need to take is just to keep putting yourself out there. Reach out to people you know or have worked with before. Tell your family and friends that you're looking for work. I haven't reached out and just publicly said, 'Hey, I lost my job, and I'm looking for work!' I keep telling myself that I'm still in the prepping phase, but I need to shake myself out of it and admit that there's never going to be an end to the preparation,” she says.
Ariel Kurtz, 25, usher
Ariel Kurtz was an usher at a prominent theatre in New York City before she learned that she was being let go via email. “It was inevitable, because I knew, due to COVID-19, that we can no longer gather together in theatre spaces. I feel very lucky that I applied for unemployment right before the rest of the world did and I didn't have a problem with the unemployment system," she explains. "Besides my usher job, I'm also a performer and was getting called back for future regional theatre jobs, but those ended up getting canceled as well. I had been trying to leave my usher job for a while, but I guess the universe did it for me."
Kurtz is also living the freelance life. “I'm freelancing at the moment, and I have a bunch of different small jobs, but I would like a more steady income. I do some light editing work, babysitting, writing for an online publication, and working as a virtual assistant. Job searching right now is very stressful, and there has been a lot of rejection," she says.
Currently, Kurtz is still job searching. “I'm mostly looking for part-time customer service and administrative opportunities that are remote,” Kurtz explains. “I'm also interested in the facilitator/teaching artist space. It's not a lot of fun applying to jobs during a pandemic. I have a lot of job experience for a young person, and I just am trying to show my transferable skills, even if I don't meet all the requirements!”
Just like Welsh, Kurtz is making networking a priority, while also making it a point to shake off shame. “The main piece of advice is to reach out to people you know! Also, we are in a global pandemic, so do what you can each day; take it easy on yourself,” she says.