The Pandemic’s Equity Impact, Part 1: Increased Lifeload, Increased Support

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The Pandemic’s Equity Impact, Part 1: Increased Lifeload, Increased Support

This two-part series looks at the impact of the pandemic on women’s careers and workplace equity. Part one spotlights recent findings and recommendations, part two offers actionable insights and practical advice for leaders. 

The topic of gender equity in the workforce is not new. The disparity in representation and pay between men and women is not new. Yes, there have been some gains, but despite decades of awareness, meaningful progress remained slow. Most agree that these gaps need to be addressed, and initiatives started to gain serious momentum in recent years.

When COVID-19 hit, seemingly overnight, all issues beyond safety and survival went out the proverbial window. 

At first, no one knew where to focus their concerns. Would there be a recession? What would this mean for early-career workers? What about those approaching retirement?

Quickly, it became clear that while the crisis wasn’t going to discriminate, it might hit mid-career employees harder than most: Those working from home while managing households and caring for children, while schools, daycare facilities, and similar programs closed.

Recognizing this possibility, the Rutgers Business School Center for Women in Business (CWIB) launched a survey of dual-income households interested in understanding how gender roles in the home might impact gender equity in the workforce. 


Increased Contributions at Home

In May 2020, CWIB launched an online representative survey of roughly 1,500 adults, with 1,073 respondents living in dual-career households with opposite-gender partners. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results found that both men and women were taking on more unpaid labor and childcare because of COVID-19.

The percent of men who provided five or more hours of daily care for children nearly doubled, from 15 percent pre-pandemic to 29 percent, while for women, their share jumped from 23 percent to 37 percent. Time spent on household chores soared, too, with men who spent at least five hours a day rising from 11 percent to 20 percent during the crisis, compared to an increase from 15 percent to 28 percent for women. 

Over time, the hope is that men dedicating more time to childcare and chores will help destigmatize what’s been seen as “women’s work” and promote increased gender equity at home and in the workplace. From the study, CWIB believes there’s reason to suggest that this correlation already exists.

Kristina Durante, the center’s director of research, explained, “We found that the more men were contributing to unpaid household labor, when there are more hands-on-deck, this was positively related to women’s perceptions of their job productivity and their job satisfaction.” 

The authors’ of Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace echoed this sentiment, revealing that when men do their fair share at home, it accelerates gender equity at work in three ways: women become more successful, children gain an egalitarian perspective and men participating in unpaid labor help normalize flexible work arrangements.  

Increased Support from Work

At the same time, while men may be doing more at home, there’s plenty of reason to be concerned. As several months into the pandemic, McKinsey discovered that 1 in 4 women are thinking about downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely, unable to balance work and life when there are no longer boundaries between the two.

Help outside the office won’t be enough to stem the tide, and the brunt of this burden can’t fall to individual workers. 

As Lisa Kaplowitz, executive director of the center, reinforced, “Everybody’s going through this. You hear kids in the background on the Zoom. You see kids in the background. That’s from the CEO down to the admin. We have to be mindful of that.” 

A larger, more systemic change needs to take place – and soon. According to NPR, “the pandemic’s female exodus has decidedly turned back the clock by at least a generation, with the share of women in the workforce down to levels not seen since in 1988.”

Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives need to be revived and refocused for both internal workforce development and external recruiting. Flexibility, agility, and adaptability are recurring themes that require immediate consideration on the part of employers of all sizes.

What’s Next?

CWIB sees ample opportunity through HR and senior leadership, creating new policies and systems that support women in the long run and not just at this moment.

Adam Feigenbaum, a member of the CWIB advisory board, shared, “To accomplish this, organizations have to be very purposeful about how they attract women to their business and how they mentor women for future roles. It’s going to be about women-first policies, and women are going to be able to see that there’s not only a place for them to start but a place for them to grow.” 

Durante concluded, “We’re hoping that our memories for this time period where we were all at home can be sustained so that the social norm around what comprises the traditional worker changes in a positive way, creating less stigmatization between balancing work and home life.

Because we were all part of it, we were all in the same boat. We’re hoping that that memory of what it takes to run a household will stick around. We may all have to actively make sure that it doesn’t fade.” 

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