The New York Times concluded, from data and analysis cultivated by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, that men are more at risk than women when it comes to the current pandemic. But their conclusions are based strictly on the medical implications of COVID-19. When it comes to the larger impact of the pandemic, women are more at risk in other areas. As for the risk of financial depletion and the care burden created by societal pressures and projected familial roles, women are impacted more. While the virus doesn’t play favorites among age, gender, race or sexual preference and everyone is feeling negative effects from its spread, women in the workplace bear the brunt of these sudden shifts in daily life.
Anyone not infected is dealing with the stress of balancing their careers, finances and home life under strained circumstances. Women, particularly, are experiencing this pressure from all angles. The crisis is emphasizing many of the issues and inequalities raised in International Women’s Day celebrations. (Was March 8th really just a few weeks ago?) Where exactly are women shouldering the greatest burdens?
Providing Childcare with Schools and Daycare Closed
A majority of women are taking on the responsibility of caring for their children during this difficult time. In many states, schools and daycares have shut down until further notice. Many women are taking leave or compromising working from home to go beyond their typical parental duties. More than simply keeping children occupied, parents are now homeschooling their children, with little preparedness and no training. And in many instances, it’s the mothers who are filling that teacher role.
Maintaining a Clean Home and Stocked Pantry
From the dawn of time and across societies, women have been expected to cook, clean and care for the children. Now, more women are working moms. They’re expected to execute those existing responsibilities on top of their job responsibilities. With the virus spreading at alarming rates and many panicking to buy enough for an extended period at home, women still disproportionately bear the burden of housework. Right now, that means sanitizing everything and making sure pantries are stocked with food, water and goods to last a while.
Lost Jobs and Careers on Hold
Women are more likely to work part-time and low-wage positions than men. The women in these jobs face a greater risk of being furloughed or let go completely. Among the industries hit hardest right now are leisure and hospitality. Both have a high proportion of female workers. For those whose jobs do allow working from home, many have children needing supervision and/or education. In too many cases, these women’s jobs are taking a back seat so a spouse can continue to work with minimal interruption. For many women in the workplace, this means struggling to fulfill responsibilities or working later to compensate for time missed.
Women on the Front Lines
On a more positive note, women have been at the forefront of this pandemic, working as medical professionals, grocery store clerks and more. This reinforces how women are capable of leadership roles in their fields, even during high-stress situations. Women are showcasing their skills, making a difference in their communities and gradually implementing change in their workplaces and professions. But, even with the good, there’s always room for improvement. Companies can start doing more to support their female workers through times of crisis, if not this time, then for the next.
Companies could start emergency funds that would then be available for working mothers, prioritizing those in part-time positions and making minimum wage who might not qualify for state assistance. Workplaces can implement remote-work policies, specifically for emergencies like this where employees cannot work onsite. Companies could provide employee benefits for full- and part-time employees that include stronger paid-leave policies and childcare stipends.
While these options may not be the answers to all our issues, they may lessen the burden the COVID-19 crisis has placed on many working women. Even in these uncertain times, we can recognize a problem, put a procedure in place and continue to refine that process. An international crisis is no excuse to step back from progress. Everyone deserves a chance to survive not just the pandemic, but the stress it’s put on us too. The best way to do that is to share the burden and work to get through it together.