There have been some incredibly sobering statistics that have bubbled up recently regarding the effects of COVID-19 on employment, especially for women in the workforce. We all know that COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on employment and our economy, so it’s not surprising to me that a significant amount of women have been affected. However, the disproportionate number of women affected is staggering. According to one study by McKinsey, “Women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. Women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US unemployment rate for women in April was 16.2%, while the unemployment rate for men was 13.5%. While this number is alarming, there’s somewhat of an explanation. Women, and more often women of color, typically work in service type roles. Hospitality, retail, health services, and education for example. These roles were affected by shutdowns and stay at home orders, which in turn, created an employment issue.
There’s another thing to consider. Those women who are not affected by losing their job are dealing with another issue: childcare. With schools shut down or childcare options limited, the caregiving responsibility often times falls on women. A study by the US Census Bureau shows that over 32% of women are not working due to childcare issues compared to 12% of men. 80% of moms studied reported that they are doing most or all of the housework and home schooling which is much more than they did before.
I know that there are a lot of people out there who would dispute this. There are a lot of men that are the primary source of childcare or are doing their fair share. But I’d argue that this is the exception, not the norm. In my circle of friends, most of the care for small children, even up to college-aged kids, has landed on the mothers. Perhaps it because so many of us feel it’s our “duty” to be the primary caregiver, or maybe it’s because there is nothing more powerful than mom guilt, so we push to be the absolute most we can be for our families. Schoolwork, cooking, peacekeeping, cheerleading, house cleaning, and home maintenance lands on the women of the house, and it’s taking a toll. According to one study, more than 50% of mothers are reporting depression and anxiety that they have never experienced before.
Hopefully, colleagues of these women are understanding and accepting, but I’m certain there are many that are not. Many women are trying to “hush up the kids” or “entertain them somehow” while they are in the middle of a meeting. I’ve heard a friend complain that her male boss makes remarks like, “doesn’t that kid nap?” Now, she puts meetings on her calendar at lunch in order to make sure everyone is fed and happy before her meetings so she is not called out by him. Or, worse, she’s sticking them in front of a tablet or TV to entertain them. Others who are trying to find a job are on video interviews praying their toddler won’t cry from the next room. Some are being moms and caregivers during the day while working long hours into the night so they can show their worth and value to their employer. While others are just trying to make it through the day, juggling all aspects of being a working mother, and falling into bed every night exhausted and dreading the following day. It’s not sustainable. According to Women in Workplace 2020, more than 2 million women are considering taking a leave of absence or leaving the workforce all together. In September alone, over 800,000 women left the workforce compared to 200,000 men.
Our country has made significant strides in gender equality in the workplace over the last 40 years, but it’s estimated that this pandemic will put women back almost 18 years from where we are now. In an interview with CBS Sunday morning, one person mentioned that this virus is not only causing people to die, but it’s killing women’s careers and setting them back decades.
My takeaway from this? Be aware. Be aware of the struggles of your colleagues, staff, and clients. If you know a colleague has small children at home, perhaps ask when the best times for meetings would be. If work can be done during off hours, give the permission for this to be done to alleviate some stress. We’re all trying to be the best we can be in our jobs, so figure out ways that work for everyone on the team. Sure, the work needs to be done and when a mom signs on for a job she knew it was a juggle. But no one could have expected this and I’m sure not one man or woman wants to have to choose between work and family. For many it’s an impossible choice due to financial restrictions and the entire situation causes stress and suffering for those at home and at work. We’re continuing to adapt to our new work life and adapting to the changes it brings. Things are nowhere near the same, so let’s practice patience and grace. A little patience and grace goes a long way!