The COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine has brought to light many societal inequalities hidden under the surface by business-as-usual protocols. One of these hidden disparities is the the way that women’s careers – and especially women of color – have been uniquely impacted.
Women made up a larger portion of service jobs, meaning that more women than men lost their jobs during the COVID-19 shutdown. Over the nearly eight months of the quarantine, women have not only been more likely to lose their jobs, but also have been more likely to leave the workforce partially or completely to take care of their children.
Here, we’ll share four of the most surprising ways the pandemic has affected women’s careers, as well as offering advice for remedying these inequities during and after quarantine.
4 Ways the Pandemic is Affecting Women’s Careers
Women are less able to work from home
Women are more likely to be employed in service jobs than men are. Jobs in sectors like retail and healthcare are not remote-flexible, meaning many women were laid off or furloughed, rather than enabled to work from home. Wall Street Journal found that 38 percent of women said they couldn’t work from home, though, notably, the same survey found that this was also true for 37 percent of men.
Women face larger productivity challenges
Many people are becoming more productive working from home than they were in the office. Over three-quarters of men surveyed by Qualtrics and the Boardlist said they had become more productive working from home than they were in their companies. In contrast, only 46 percent of women said they’d been more productive.
Women are taking on a heavier share of domestic work than men
In a study of more than 40,000 people, McKinsey and LeanIn.org found that in heterosexual, two-career couples, women were taking on more responsibility for caring for their homes and children than their male partners. 40 percent of women say that they spend three or more hours on childcare and home responsibilities than they did before COVID, in contrast to only 26 percent of men.
These increased responsibilities for women have also encouraged some of them to take a step back from the careers, or to quit their jobs entirely. In the same study, one in five mothers are considering leaving the workplace permanently or temporarily until schools reopen. An additional 15 percent of mothers are considered working fewer hours or taking on a less demanding role.
This is particularly true for mothers of young children, 25 percent of whom want to take a leave of absence or quit their jobs. Black women were even more likely to drop out of the workforce, in part because they don’t feel welcome enough at their workplaces to share their concerns.
Only around 11 percent of fathers are considering leaving the workforce.
Women are less likely to get promoted during quarantine
This additional labor that women take on in the home often means that they’re less available for workplace optics, like attending meetings or get togethers. This is certainly a carry-over from traditional work, where women with more at-home responsibilities had less face time at their workplaces.
Mary Noonan, a sociology professor, explains why this diminished face time matters for women. “In traditional workplaces, it’s not about what you produce, it’s more about where you are, and if you aren’t in the office, you may miss out on new projects or what’s going on or a new strategy,” she says.
More face time leads to more promotions, a dynamic that has replicated itself even in remote work. In a Boardlist study, fathers were three times as likely as mothers to have received a promotion while working from home. Fathers are also more likely to have received pay raises while working remotely – with 26 percent of them earning pay raises in contrast to only 13 percent of women.
This can be explained both with the lack of face time, but also because it was always easier for men to be taken seriously in the workplace. Even if men and women worked the same number of hours a day, men would often be considered for promotions first, as women still have to work harder than men to reap the same reward, Noonan explains.
Gender diversity, especially in management roles, can make companies more profitable and innovative, says Boston Consulting Group. In the last few pre-COVID years, men-to-women ratios in the workforce had become more balanced and women in management positions had increased.
Still, gender roles at home, especially regarding childcare and household labor, continue to exacerbate struggles women have in pursuing their careers. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t cause these inequities at home or in the workforce, only highlighted what had previously been swept under the rug.
What’s to be done?
McKinsey and LeanIn.org suggest that unless companies take additional steps to retain mothers in the workforce, they’ll lose these multi-year gains. At home, experts suggest that men take on half of the housework, childcare, and learning-from-home responsibilities so that their partners don’t have to step back from work during quarantine.