Paramount Software Solutions Inc

Impact of COVID-19 on Women in the Workplace

As we celebrate Women’s day this March, we can’t stop but wonder how the world has changed in the last couple of years. A pandemic ravaged across the globe and is still not under control, global economy faced one of its biggest challenge ever, and on the personal level, our homes turned into offices and classrooms for the children. While the line between home and work disappeared during this time of working from home, closed schools, daycare, and minimal domestic help meant a full day’s work was followed by hours spent on taking care of children and household.

Household: Women in charge

While one would think that both sexes would bear the burden of managing the household, data shows a completely different story. The childcare and other family responsibilities for women have increased due to ongoing COVID-19 challenges such as school closures, online learning, and limited daycare operations. According to BCG survey, conducted on working parents in five countries, that includes US also, it was found that amount of time spent on childcare has increased significantly by extra 27 hours per week in the time of COVID-19. But this number alone does not provide the true picture. There is a great divide between how this extra time is split between the two parents. The childcare responsibilities have fallen disproportionately on women who contribute 15 out of 27 extra hours per week.

Workplace burnout:

All this extra work at home means women have to juggle between work and household responsibilities a lot more than men. This never-ending stream of work and responsibilities means that women will have to deal with higher levels of exhaustion and burnout. This burnout will lead to reduced participation in the workplace. This difference can be seen in the responses to a study done by McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.org. This study found that among the two parents, mothers are more likely to consider taking a hit to their career aspirations because of increased responsibilities at home. Mothers would consider reducing the working hours or switching to a less demanding job or quit altogether. As the image indicates, a quarter of women have thought about downshifting.

Unique Challenges

The picture becomes grimmer when we consider that this is happening after the fact that women already represented larger share in industries which were directly affected by restrictions placed to combat the pandemic. A study done by the University of Pittsburgh (Link) showed that the industries that were amongst the hardest hit by pandemic had a female employee share of 74%. These industries like food, personal grooming or those with customer facing positions were all closed during the pandemic. Even industries that were not hit the hardest had more impact on jobs mostly occupied by women. This means when you look at it all together, in total 4.5% of women’s employment is at risk compared with 3.8% for men.

According to a working paper by NBER (Link), women unemployment figures had jumped by 12.8% during February and April 2020, as compared to men’s unemployment rate of 9.9%. So, in the past year, women not only lost more jobs as Coronavirus ravaged some sectors more than others, but they also had to leave the workplace at a much higher rate because of extra responsibilities at home.

One step forward, two steps back:

Before our life was turned upside down by the pandemic, there was already a negative bias against women as far as promotion to senior management roles were concerned. Before the start of pandemic, there was still not parity in participation rate between genders, but it was moving in the right direction. Now with the impact of COVID-19 and women being more adversely impacted, this could set progress made on this matter back years.

Is COVID-19 only to blame:

The pandemic is not the only factor in gender imbalance in the workplace, but it did expose a dark underbelly of our society where women are still struggling to balance the household and the career. Main aspects that are driving the disproportionate harm are the factors that always existed: an over reliance on an inadequate childcare system and women concentration in highly interactive front customer facing jobs.

Where to go next?

Once the pandemic begins to subside and we return to a new normal, organizations must take stock of the unbalanced impact that the pandemic has had on women. This is essential if we are going to make up for the uneven burden shouldered by women during this crisis. It has been proven time and again that diversity in the workplace is desired and not only do diverse companies perform better for shareholder, but they also help society realize more of its potential.

Over the past 100 years the contribution of women to the economy has changed. But our systems are not robust enough to handle the current situation. Since these conditions have existed for long, the solutions we have to put into practice for recovery from COVID-19 should not be entirely short term focused, but also long-lasting changes need to be made to shrink the wage gap, create the healthy work environment and family leave policies, and align affordable childcare with the working schedules of the parents so mothers who want to stay at the workplace should be able to. External factors if any should not make an adverse impact on women more than men. Women play a vital role at home and in the workplace and supporting women in those roles must be embedded in the policy.

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Impact of COVID-19 on Women in the Workplace

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