December 29, 2020

COVID-19 and Women in the Workplace

Cody Broussard

2020: much has and will be written about this year and the impact that COVID-19 had on every single aspect of our lives.  This includes the impact on business; our economy, employment rates, income changes, and even how it has affected our mental health at work. As the whole world navigated the repercussions from the necessary lockdowns and move to remote workplaces, women were more vulnerable to the negative repercussions than men, specifically mothers, senior level women, and Black women. Four times as many American women left the workplace as their male counterparts and those numbers are not only based on layoffs: 1in 4 women who left the workforce this year did so because they no longer had access to childcare.  In the same year the United States celebrated the 100-year anniversary of women’s right to vote, we are facing the largest crisis for working women in modern history. Compacted with the existing wage gap, these statistics must be considered as we navigate new job searches, converge for conversations with our employers, and, most importantly, when we enter into salary negotiations.

While we cannot turn back the clock, if we remain cognizant of these disadvantages there are steps we can take to position ourselves in the best way possible as we continue to navigate this new normal. It starts at home. A recent Lean In survey, in collaboration with McKinsey & Company, illustrated that even women who have a partner in child rearing tend to take on more of the burden of childcare and household work with the whole family at home: women are 1.5 times more likely than their male partners to be working 20+ hours on childcare, schoolwork for their young children and household chores. In the same survey only 44% of women felt like those responsibilities were evenly distributed between themselves and their husbands, while 70% of men thought those duties were evenly distributed.  The wide discrepancy in numbers indicates there is a perception from men that they are pitching in enough, while women feel they are carrying more of that burden. Having candid conversations with our partners is the first step in redistributing the workload and hopefully finding a way to create more balance in the number of directions we are being pulled before we even start our workday.

Women are also feeling more pressured at work to take on more, to balance their own perception of being a performer and a parent. 13%of women reported feeling uncomfortable discussing parenting during the pandemic at work, compared to 5% of men who felt the same. When you think about undertaking a job search in the middle of all this and trying to have a conversation with a hiring manager about how they balance working at home with the demands of remote learning, all while being afraid that mentioning parenting at all will be a mark against you, the mental gymnastics sound nearly as difficult as trying to teach your kids long division. Truly knowing about a company’s culture requires these kinds of conversations and you won’t find it with a Google search. It is important to seek out an organization with women in leadership, that also does discriminate against balancing work and family.  Working with an external recruiter who has an existing relationship with an organization and can illustrate what that work life balance looks like is a great way to truly dig into the employer you are considering. Not only that, but a recruiter has historical knowledge of salary negotiations with clients as well as market knowledge to really fight for you to get the best salary, without you having to jump into the ring and sweat out the back and forth of negotiations. Having someone advocate for you and give you a realistic idea of how a company treats its employees is the kind of insider knowledge you need to make a crucial decision on where to work.

Lastly, networking groups, even remote ones that meet virtually are a great way to connect with women who are facing the same concerns you are at home and at work. Not only does this lend you an empathetic ear, but it allows you to brainstorm ways to avoid burnout, balance work and life, understand your local market and potentially learn about new organizations with a great culture who treat employees the way you want to be treated. Being well-connected, especially in this time of social distancing, keeps your mental health in check and a strong network makes for an easier transition in a job search, whether you take that on now, or down the road.

*All data taken from “Women in the Workplace 2020” https://womenintheworkplace.com/