It is hard to believe that only less than a year ago, working women were struggling with their usual issues – the infamous second shift (dividing household chores with their partners), managing complicated family schedules of sports, school and after-school activities and still meeting their deadlines at the office. Explore the impact of COVID-19 on working women.
As COVID-19 continues to turn the world on its head, the impact on working mothers – both with and without partners – has been devastating in many ways. Women continue to juggle maintaining a family and pursue careers in the face of massive layoffs, especially in industries like retail and tourism. This negative juxtaposition is compounded by the fact that after-school activities have essentially evaporated.
Fortune Magazine reports that the impact of working moms’ coronavirus-related juggling act has cost approximately $341 billion in economic damage. Not only are women and working mothers balancing their usual responsibilities as the lines between career and parenthood blur with the national shelter-in-place, they are also fearing for their jobs—where approximately 60% of the jobs eliminated in the first wave of pandemic-induced layoffs were held by women.
Women who are the sole or primary breadwinners in their families lost jobs at an especially fast clip, with their unemployment rate rising to 15.9% in April, compared to 13% for married women. In terms of economic data, the female labor force participation rate dipped below 55% (54.7%) in April 2020 for the first time since February 1986, when it was at 54.8%.
Life is not a piece of cake for those moms fortunate enough to still have their jobs. A survey of more than 500 working moms conducted by Bonnier Custom Insights, a division of Working Mother Media’s parent company, Bonnier Corp., found that 81% of respondents said their ability to engage effectively at work has been negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
More than half (55%) say anxiety due to uncertainty has kept them from engaging effectively at work. More than a third (36%) pointed to family pressures as the culprit. More than 80% of moms in a New York Times poll reported with schools closed, the burden of home-schooling children ages 12 and under is falling on them. This in addition to striving to build a barrier between home office and home,
Zoom meetings can create another potential hazard. When Prof. Robert Kelly’s two children crashed his BBC interview in 2017, the clip went viral and Kelly became a media hero. Deftly handling the moment and showing his human side. Many women complained that if Kelly had been a woman, she would have been labeled “incompetent” and disparaged for being unable to manage her family under the same circumstances.
Keeping small people out of Zoom meetings has become a challenge. Since COVID-19 both men and women have been pushed out of the office and into the living room. For women, accepting these interruptions as part of the current situation or penalizing employees for having a family life, can be a litmus test of how companies values its employees.
While some companies have resumed office hours as states and cities have loosened sheltering-in-place rules, many schools and day care centers have remained closed once again leaving women torn between their careers and their families. There don’t seem to be any studies of the impact of sheltering at home and home schooling on men.
As the race to develop a successful COVID-19 vaccine continues, and the current see-saw situation (school starts, school resumes online) continues, the perennial question posed by Sigmund Freud remains:
What do Women Want?
The website fairygodboss surveyed 1,000 women in May to find the answer. What these women want from their employers is:
A stipend or reimbursement for operating a home office (45%)
Free or discounted professional development or online classes (35%)
Additional paid sick leave (24%)
More flexible schedules/remote work options (21%)
Access to online fitness classes and other wellness options (19%)