Are we going backwards on gender equality in the Covid economy? Four times as many women as men dropped out of the labor force during the pandemic, which is roughly 865,000 women, compared with 216,000 men. In fact, one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to COVID-19. Years of gradual advancement of gender equality and gender diversity in the workplace may be at risk as the pandemic continues to push women out of the workforce.
In this episode of Break the Bias, Holly Corbett, the Director of Content for Consciously Unbiased, (virtually) sits down with Reshma Saujani, CEO of Girls Who Code, and author of Brave, Not Perfect. Reshma proposed the solution that we should treat mothers as essential workers and pay them for their labor in an open letter in the New York Times, calling on the Biden Administration to build a task force dedicated to creating a “Marshall Plan for Moms.” The letter was signed by 50 women, including Tarana Burke, Eva Longoria, Amy Schumer, and Whitney Wolfe Herd.
Reshma shares some reasons why women are leaving work at higher rates than men, as well as a solution for bringing women back to work. Listen to the full conversation here, and read below for some key takeaways.
WOMEN CONTINUE TO SHOULDER MOST OF THE CAREGIVING RESPONSIBILITIES
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, women were bearing the brunt of caregiving duties. The crisis and the subsequent shutdown response have resulted in a drastic increase in this burden for women. A survey reveals that one out of four women who reported becoming unemployed during the pandemic said it was because of a lack of child care—twice the rate among men. “When the schools closed, moms became the teacher, nanny, tech support, cook, everything. We started supplementing our paid labor for unpaid labor.”
GENDER-SPECIFIC INDUSTRIES HAVE BEEN HIT HARD BY THE RECESSION
The nature of work continues to be gender specific, since men and women tend to remain concentrated in different occupations and industries. “A disproportionate amount of women are in industries, such as hospitality, education, or healthcare, that have been hit by the recession.” An analysis supports the fact that female jobs are 19% more at risk than male jobs, because women are disproportionately represented in sectors negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
LACK OF SOCIAL SUPPORT
Social support is essential for coping with stress and managing our mental health. It is more likely for women to become invested in other peoples’ demands, which can lead to heightened stress and depression. “The women that worked for me and the women that I was working with were all experiencing pain, trauma and exhaustion due to the pandemic. Women are starting to reach their breaking points, because we don’t know when this is going to be over and we have no control.” Research has shown that 27% of women have reported increases in mental health challenges during the pandemic compared to 10% of men. Higher unpaid labor duties may contribute to women’s added stress, worries about food, work, and health care.
LACK OF PUBLIC POLICY
There is a lack of initiatives for working parents, especially for working mothers. “It’s clear that valuing mother’s labor is not a priority for our leaders.” The pandemic has emphasized the urgency for a more robust child care infrastructure and family-forward workplace policies like paid family leave or pay equity. The problem is that most of the federal policies implemented to support working families may be outdated and inadequate. They also fail to address gender inequalities, such as the wage gap and disproportionate job loss.
The Motherhood Penalty is a term that describes the systematic disadvantages that mothers face due to the pay gap and caregiving bias compared to non-mothers and men. “For many of us, we know there’s a motherhood penalty, so we don’t talk about our kids. We don’t bring them into the picture; we know that we are already assumed to not be as invested in our careers because we have children.” Research suggests that 70% of both working moms and dads agree that women are penalized in their careers for starting families, while men are not.
SOLUTION TO BRINGING WOMEN BACK TO WORK, A MARSHALL PLAN FOR MOMS
“We need to start to assign a value to the unpaid and unseen labor of our mothers, because for far too long, their labor has been taken for granted,” says Reshma. “We have an opportunity to ask our leaders to establish a task force to create a Marshall Plan for Moms, implement a short term monthly payment, and pass policies like paid family leave. This 360 plan will help to ensure that it doesn’t take us decades to gain back what we have lost over the past year in terms of advancing gender equality. Economic recovery has to begin with working women, which includes bringing them back to work.”
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