By Caroline Fairchild

The immediate legacy of this pandemic is the outsized negative impact it’s had on working women. Yet when we look at the top of the corporate ladder, there are signs of hope.

COVID-19 has been catastrophic for women — particularly minority women, low-income women and single mothers. Job losses have mounted in sectors that employ a large share of women, while school closures have forced many working mothers to drop out of the workforce altogether. In the U.S. this fall, roughly 1.6 million fewer mothers were in the labor force than expected.

Amid these struggles, we are seeing signs of a C-suite shift, with more women moving into the top executive ranks during the pandemic. That’s happening even as hiring at this level took a dip initially, according to LinkedIn data. There are also more women leading Fortune 500 companies than ever before.

“C-Suite hires are so visible these days and now every corporation wants to be seen as a diverse and inclusive firm,” said Cornell University’s Director for Workplace Studies Louis Hyman. “That is a sign of progress.”

Several factors are pushing more women into positions of leadership across the C-Suite, experts say. Most chief among them may be the pandemic highlighting the importance of leading with empathy. When the crisis hit and workers had to grapple with their jobs alongside health concerns in their families, increased childcare responsibilities and mental burnout, being a leader who could relate to their team became paramount. While empathy is a characteristic that both men and women can develop, much research has shown that women tend to be more empathetic than men.

So what was once seen as a nice to have trait before the pandemic, is now being seen as a must-have skill.

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