In the News

Loss of Women’s Jobs Halting Progress Toward Equality

Loss of Women’s Jobs Halting Progress In case you didn’t notice, women’s jobs are quickly disappearing amid the confusion of the pandemic. If we don’t act soon, we will lose over 30 years of job growth, which will have lasting impact on our progress toward equality.

Here are the startling facts. Nearly three million American women have left the labor force in the past year. In January alone 275,000 women dropped out of the workforce, meaning they are no longer working or looking for work. That’s following an equally dismal December – which originally reported 140,000 jobs lost by women but was recently updated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to reflect 196,000, with women accounting for 86.3% of the total 227,000 jobs lost. Whether voluntary or involuntary, these numbers are staggering, and put women’s labor force participation rate at the lowest it’s been since 1988.

President Biden says this exodus – coupled with closing of schools, and the mental health issues for children that could arise – constitute a “national emergency.” The impact of the pandemic is far-reaching and that means we need all hands on deck. We have to get women back to work, and give them, and their children, the supports they need.

Lean In and McKinsey & Company’s latest “Women in the Workplace” report found that last fall, “One in four women said they were considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to the pandemic’s impact, with mothers three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for the majority of housework and childcare during Covid-19.”

This full-time childcare burden is falling in many women’s laps because it always has. Women have long carried the weight of the Second Shift (the time a woman walks in the door after work until bedtime when she cares for children, fixes dinner, etc.), but now thanks to a global pandemic, it’s become a never-ending shift. That’s due in large part to the ongoing closures of schools and day care centers and the loss of other supports women have long relied on. With male spouses or partners earning more (there’s that pesky gender pay gap again), women frequently have no choice but to step away from their careers to take over childcare responsibilities. When you add the bind of women providing the majority of workforce for  essential jobs without the work from home options, who takes care of the kids? Women, especially women of color, are often on the front lines in health care, grocery stores and other essential functions, and are the sole breadwinners for their families.  It’s abundantly clear that we need systemic change to support women whose work is essential to survival both at work and at home.

A recent report from the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress predicted that without government intervention, women’s lost wages could cost the economy $64.5 billion per year, which would prolong the current economic crisis and could, “put women back into a position of social, political, and economic inferiority.”

Emily Martin, National Women’s Law Center’s vice president for education and workplace justice said that if we want to see more working mothers stay in the workforce or re-enter the workforce, there needs to be a bailout for the childcare sector. She recently told CNBC, “The last COVID relief package had about $10 billion for childcare. And it sounds like a big number until you realize that more than $50 billion is needed to ensure that our child-care infrastructure is still there once people are able to go back to work.”

Prior to the pandemic, women made up more than half of the workforce and were on track to reach gender parity within the next decade. Study after study shows that having more women in the workforce is good for women’s equality and their company’s bottom line. It’s time for women and our male allies to come together like never before and find solutions that will work now and after this crisis passes.

Kamala Harris Makes History

Kamala_Harris_Makes_HistoryOn Saturday, November 7, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris made history when she became the first woman, the first woman of color, the first Black person and the first South Asian to be elected Vice President of the United States. In a moving victory speech, she recognized the historic, glass-breaking moment and thanked the women who came before her – including her immigrant mother – who paved the path for her to serve in the White House alongside President-Elect Joe Biden.

“I am thinking about her and about the generations of women, Black women, Asian, white, Latina, Native American women, who throughout our nation’s history, have paved the way for this moment tonight, women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality and liberty and justice for all. Including the Black women who are often, too often overlooked but so often proved they are the backbone of our democracy,” said the Vice President Elect. “All the women who have worked to secure and protect the right to vote for over a century 100 years ago with the 19th Amendment, 55 years ago with the Voting Rights Act and now in 2020 with a new generation of women in our country who cast their ballots and continued the fight for their fundamental right to vote and be heard. Tonight, I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been. And I stand on their shoulders.”

Such powerful words and a very powerful reminder that when we celebrate moments of great advancement like this one, or smaller victories along the way, we need to honor the women who came before us and worked to make their voices heard. As we prepare to watch the first woman in our country’s history be sworn in as Vice President of the United States, it is only fitting to look back on a few of the historical moments that helped make this possible. History shows that progress is not made by one person but the collective as we draw together and pool our strengths to lift each other up.

Here are a few milestones that paved the way for Senator Harris’ rise to Vice President:

1851 – Sojourner Truth delivers “I Ain’t a Woman” speech

1869 – Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association

1917 – Jeannette Rankin, suffrage activist, is first woman elected to Congress

1920 – Ratification of the 19th Amendment

1963 – Equal Pay Act signed into law

1965 – The Voting Rights Act – designed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented Black Americans from exercising their right to vote – is passed

1971 – Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Betty Friedan form the National Women’s Political Caucus

1972 – Title IX signed into law

1981 – Sandra Day O’Connor is first woman appointed to U.S. Supreme Court

1997 – Madeline Albright is sworn in as first female Secretary of State

2007 – Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi becomes first female Speaker of the House

History will be made again on January 20 when Senator Harris is sworn in. We will – at last – have a woman in the second highest office in the land who knows what it’s like to juggle the demands of a career with the needs of a family, a woman who knows that you deserve equal pay, who values affordable healthcare, childcare and workplace protections, and a woman who is empowered and who can help you make your voice heard. As she said on November 7, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities and to the children of our country regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourselves in a way that others may not simply because they’ve never seen it before.”

Senator Harris’ election shows girls around the world that they CAN do whatever they set their minds to and proves that together we are stronger, and together we can change the world.

 

 

 

2021 – Getting Women’s Progress Back on Track

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Many of us felt a sigh of relief to tear off the last page of the 2020 calendar. After all the uncertainty, the struggles to survive, and blow after blow to the economy, our collective nerves are shot. But the new year has not brought any change in itself. It’s up to us to focus on what we hope the next 12 months will bring, to look at the inequities that became glaringly apparent in 2020, to create fresh perspectives about what really matters, and to work together to get women’s progress back on track.

COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on women and has blurred the boundaries between work and home. According to Lean In and McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2020, “Women—especially women of color—are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis, stalling their careers and jeopardizing their financial security. The pandemic has intensified challenges that women already faced. Working mothers have always worked a ‘double shift’—a full day of work, followed by hours spent caring for children and doing household labor. Now the supports that made this possible—including school and childcare—have been upended. Meanwhile, Black women already faced more barriers to advancement than most other employees. Today they’re also coping with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community.” The ongoing stress of racial unrest and violence, inequity in all areas of society, in addition to having to work twice as hard to get half as much has reached toxic levels, whose effects will take years to assess.

All the stress, uncertainty and upheaval is causing women to make decisions that even a year ago would have been unheard of, Thousands of women are downshifting or completely exiting their careers, not because their jobs are disappearing, but because their support systems have. The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress’ report How Covid-19 Sent Women’s Workforce Progress Backward reported, “Four times as many women as men dropped out of the labor force in September, roughly 865,000 women compared with 216,000 men. This validates predictions that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women—and the accompanying childcare and school crises—would be severe.” The report further states, “that the risk of mothers leaving the labor force and reducing work hours in order to assume caretaking responsibilities amounts to $64.5 billion per year in lost wages and economic activity.”

“If we had a panic button, we’d be hitting it,” Rachel Thomas, the CEO of Lean In said to TIME. “We have never seen numbers like these.”

Women’s voluntary and involuntary exits from the workforce are not only having an economic impact but will also have consequences on gender equality for decades to come. We are at a crossroads and the choices we make today about work-family policies and childcare infrastructure must address immediate and long-term needs. Organizational and government leaders need to think big picture and not only look at ways to get back on track, but also be prepared to weather future crises and really fix the disparities women have had to overcome to advance in their careers since they entered the workforce.

The current crisis presents a historical opportunity, and as Women in the Workplace 2020 points out, “If companies make significant investments in building a more flexible and empathetic workplace—and there are signs that this is starting to happen—they can retain the employees most affected by today’s crises and nurture a culture in which women have equal opportunity to achieve their potential over the long term.”

The pandemic has exposed the gross inequities many women deal with every day and has made addressing those issues and balancing the scales a top priority for 2021.  We need to collectively take action that will keep women employed and in the pipeline for advancement. And we need to think big-picture and develop plans to regain the steps we may have lost during this crisis. We are all struggling with this continued uncertainty. These are the times when we need to come together to help each other through, not allow it to overwhelm us and remember that our progress is important, not only to women, but to everyone’s recovery. By fixing the conspicuous inequities in the system that have always held women back, we can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever and do more than get women back on track. We can accelerate that track to true equity by supporting 100% of the talent and productivity available—women and men together.

 

Women’s Races Set Records and Push Closer to 50-50

Womens_Races_Set_RecordsIn the midst of a prolonged and chaotic election cycle, we paused to celebrate the election of Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first woman of color, the first Black person and the first South Asian to be elected vice president of the United States. We also took time to step back and look at the races beyond this historic win that pushed women’s progress closer to 50-50. Women across the country made several gains and moved the dial on representation. The Center for American Women and Politics reported that 134 women (25%) will serve in the 117th Congress, beating the 2019 record of 127 (23.7%). Of those women, 48 (9%) represent women of color, and 22 are non-incumbent winners.

While we have a long way to go to reach 50-50, these gains are still significant, and each win is worth celebrating.

Cori Bush made history on election day as the first Black woman elected to represent Missouri in Congress. Cori was one of at least 115 women of color running for Congress this year. She toppled a political dynasty to get the nomination, and later defeated her Republican rival with more than 75% of the vote.  A progressive activist, single mother, nurse, and pastor, ABC News reports that Cori spoke openly on the campaign trail about her struggle with paying taxes and surviving paycheck to paycheck. She has also been outspoken about her experiences facing homelessness and domestic violence at points in her life. She plans to take her lived experience with her to Congress, and her acceptance speech was impassioned, empowering, and move-to-tears inspiring. Running on some of our nation’s most important issues, she said, “this is our moment.” Her win exemplifies the power of having the courage to step outside of our comfort zone, and her victory proves that we’re in this together.

Marilyn Strickland, the former Mayor of Tacoma, Washington will be the first Korean-American woman ever elected to Congress and the first Black woman to represent Washington State at the federal level.

Wins in New Mexico by Deb Haaland, a Democrat, Yvette Herrell, a Republican, and Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Democrat, mean that New Mexico’s entire House delegation will consist of women of color. Ms. Herrell is also the first Republican Native American woman elected to Congress.

Nancy Mace will be the first Republican woman to represent South Carolina in Congress.

Cynthia Lummis, a Republican former congresswoman, will be the first woman to serve in the Senate from Wyoming.

Sarah McBride, elected to the Delaware Senate, will be the first transgender woman State Senator and the nation’s highest-ranking transgender official.

Chrisina Haswood is the youngest legislator elected to the Kansas State House.

The Northern Cheyenne Nation has elected all women for the first time ever as Tribal President, Vice President, and to fill all five open seats on the Tribal Council.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consist of all women for the first time since the board’s inception more than 150 years ago.

Women most often serve from a place of love. Cori Bush said in her acceptance speech that she loves the people who elected her and those she represents, and it is with that love that she will fight for everyone in her district. This is why it’s crucial to get more women serving in public office. That kind of dedication and perspective completely changes how we are governed. It starts in our communities and at the ballot box when we elect women at every level to lead us, to fight for us, and to build a country with a government that works for us all.

Every Vote Counts!

Every Vote CountsBy Friday, October 23, more than 50 million Americans had already cast their ballots in the 2020 election. Those ballots represent 36.5% of all the votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, and election day (in case it’s not marked in RED on your calendar) is November 3. Many of these voters were women, casting their ballots for women up and down the ticket, and many other women plan to join them in the coming days. In fact, the Brookings Institute calls 2020 “The Year of the Woman Voter” and writes that this year’s election is being driven by the increasingly overwhelming determination of a significant number of women from every demographic.

Rebecca Sive, author of Vote Her In: Your Guide to Electing Our First Woman President, writes that the best way to counter the forces of misogyny is through political action. She also states that women’s mobilization to the polls started with the 2017 Women’s March and grew throughout the year as women decided to run for office in historic numbers and to take matters into their own hands, which includes marching again.

“When I attended the 2017 Chicago Women’s March, I experienced a movement that was 250,000 people strong, in which almost every person carried a sign expressing a fervent desire for a different world—a world where women have equal opportunities and are treated equally in every setting. Marchers wanted regime change. They still do,” Rebecca writes. “All you need to do to be a part of this regime change is believe that women deserve the same rights and opportunities as men and support this declaration of independence, of women, by women, and for women, to secure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.”

Women do deserve the same rights. We are the supermajority, and on November 3 we have the opportunity to make our voices heard and choose representation that looks like us – female! We can elect women from local offices, like the school board to the second highest office in the land. This is our chance to vote for women like us who know what it’s like to juggle the demands of a career with the needs of a family, women who know that you deserve equal pay, who value affordable healthcare, childcare and workplace protections, and women who are empowered and who can help you make your voice heard.

We need more women in elected positions. As you head to the polls, keep in mind that currently women represent 51% of the U.S. population, yet we make up only:

  • 25% of the U.S. Senate
  • 23% of the U.S. House of Representatives
  • 29% of statewide elected executives
  • 29% of state legislative seats

One hundred years ago we saw the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote, and four years ago we had a woman running for the highest office in the land. Every single vote matters—your vote matters! NPR reports that more than a dozen races over the last 20 years have been decided by a single vote. This year we can flex our collective muscle and – with every single vote – elect women at every level to lead us, to fight for us, and to build a country with a government that works for us all.

If you have questions, the League of Women Voters has answers. Their Vote 411 is a one-stop-shop for election-related information. It provides nonpartisan information with both general and state-specific information as well as a polling place locator, which enables users to type in their address and retrieve the poll location for the voting precinct for that address.

In Honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg – A Champion of Equality

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

There aren’t words to describe the enormity of my feelings for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or the depth of my sadness with her passing. Thanks to her courage and commitment to justice our daughters can open a checking account, or buy a house without a male co-signer. They can have a job and not be discriminated against because of their gender. With her dissent (and call to action) in the pay discrimination case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., she helped women make strides toward equal pay. Ultimately, Justice Ginsburg taught our daughters to fight for what they believe in, and demonstrated – with every decision – to little girls everywhere that women can and do belong in all places where decisions are being made.

Justice Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union in 1972, and built her legacy by chipping away at inequalities – large and small. She understood constitutional equality was an ongoing project, and later in her life said she did not fight for “women’s rights,” but for “the constitutional principle of the equal citizenship stature of men and women.”

Just hours after her death, Barack Obama aptly described that legacy, calling Ginsburg a champion of women’s rights in her battle to achieve equality and fulfill America’s potential as a nation. “For nearly three decades, as the second woman ever to sit on the highest court in the land, she was a warrior for gender equality — someone who believed that equal justice under law only had meaning if it applied to every single American.”

While she opened a number of doors for women, her work is not done. In fact, she clearly spelled out the current situation and her hope for the future, “One must acknowledge the still bleak part of the picture. Most people in poverty in the United States and the world over are women and children, women’s earnings here and abroad trail the earnings of men with comparable education and experience, our workplaces do not adequately accommodate the demands of childbearing and child rearing, and we have yet to devise effective ways to ward off sexual harassment at work and domestic violence in our homes. I am optimistic, however, that movement toward enlistment of the talent of all who compose ‘We, the people,’ will continue.”

Our responsibility, as we mourn her passing, is to follow her lead, continue her optimism, honor her memory, and continue the fight. As my friend Trudy Bourgeois said to me earlier this week, “We all need to lead from where we are.” That means today we need to look to one another, and work together to right wrongs. True gender equity still does not exist, and as we work towards it, we must be advocates for each other. We must raise our voices to speak up for the women whose voices may otherwise go unheard. We the people have work to do, and we’ll be the most effective if we do it together.

 

It’s Time to Use Your Voice and Vote

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White women in America, listen up. Do you know that you represent the largest voting bloc in the United States? That means you have both the most influential feminine voice and you are also the most powerful electorate. There is strength in numbers, and you have an opportunity to push the change that we need in our country right now. But despite your strength in numbers, collectively, political activism, even at a micro-level is not your strong suit.

That needs to change because there’s an important election coming up. Women made a difference in 2016 and they can create phenomenal change this time around too. So it’s time to ask yourself: Are your children well-fed, safe and receiving the education they need? Do you have equal pay and the successful path you expected in your career? How are your extended family members doing? Have you been tested yet? Could you be, if you need to be? Do you have representation that understands your struggles and concerns?

It’s time to face facts. Unless you answered absolutely yes to most of these questions and wouldn’t change a thing about your life today, it’s time to accept your responsibility to yourself, your family and your community. You have an opportunity to push the change that we need in our country right now.

Yet even in the midst of an important election season, an alarming number of you admittedly steer clear of conversations about politics with friends, family and strangers – 74% according to Jenna Arnold, author of Raising Our Hands: How White Women Can Stop Avoiding Hard Conversations, Start Accepting Responsibility, and Find Our Place on the New Frontlines. Nearly three-quarters of you get by with a demurring, “I don’t like politics.” Probably few of us do like politics. It doesn’t bring out the best in people. But it does create our system of checks and balances that keeps us living in a free society. And that means we must participate, use our voices to support what we want and vote.

What keeps you silent? Were you taught to avoid discussions about politics and religion? Do you worry that you don’t know enough and might make the wrong choice? Or perhaps, you’ve been shut down in the past when you’ve raised your political opinion, and hate to be criticized and made to feel small for your beliefs.

Certainly today’s divisive political environment fueled by social media is exacerbating the problem. The toxic brew of fake news, uninformed opinions and polarizing content is wearing people down. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of Americans have stopped discussing politics with at least one person in their lives.

Whatever reasons, it remains disturbing that an overwhelming majority of the largest most powerful voting bloc in the country chooses to be silent on issues that impact their lives, their health, their wealth and the well-being of their families, not to mention important issues that support the success of a free society.

Even if you’ve been shy about advocacy, speaking your mind about anything at all for fear of not being liked, the one place you can and should raise your voice is at the ballot box. Your vote is yours and no one else’s. It’s the one place you can speak your mind without criticism and it’s your right and responsibility to use it.

This year has been the ultimate litmus test of the strength of our democracy, the facility of our government, the responsibilities of our leaders and the integrity of our society. By all accounts we are failing. A recent Gallup poll found that across party lines, Americans’ satisfaction with the direction of our country has taken a dramatic nose dive. Overall, satisfaction is down 25% since January, with only 20% of the population feeling that the United States is on the right path.

It’s obvious that we need change. And part of the change we need is more women in elected positions. Women lead best in times of crisis.

Women represent 51% of the U.S. population, yet we make up only:

  • 25% of the U.S. Senate
  • 23% of the U.S. House of Representatives
  • 29% of statewide elected executives
  • 29% of state legislative seats

Yet, more women are running for office now than ever. It’s past time for women to be represented in equal numbers in government. Women leaders back the issues that support our families. The 2020 election is just eight weeks away. It’s time for you to stand with women of color and use your voice and your voting power for the greater good of all women and the issues that are important to us.

If you’re not registered to vote, get registered now. And on November 3, come together with other women, use your voice to vote for the change you want to see in our country at every level of government.

 

 

Don’t Let COVID Stop Women’s Progress-Take Action Now

Women's ProgressWomen’s progress toward equality was moving forward at a moderate pace. 2018 was widely considered to be the “Year of the Woman” marking the biggest wave of women elected to government ever, with 2,133 women sworn into America’s state legislatures, as well as holding 25 seats in the U.S. Senate and 101 seats in the House. In 2019, women ticked past 50% of the workforce in the U.S. for the first time during a non-recessionary period in American history. Riding that wave, world leaders, civil society and the private sector had set the stage for 2020 to be the biggest year yet for the advancement of women’s rights. Until the pandemic that is.

COVID-19 has been hard on women’s progress. McKinsey reports that while most people’s lives and work have been negatively affected by the crisis, their most recent analysis shows that, overall, women’s jobs and livelihoods are more vulnerable to the pandemic. According to the National Women’s Law Center, between February and April, women lost more than 12.1 million jobs, and only a third of those jobs returned in May and June. When comparing the unemployment rate for women versus men, women ages 20 and over have an unemployment rate of 11.2% compared to their male counterparts who have an unemployment rate of 10.1%. The June unemployment rate for women is 1.3 times higher than the highest unemployment rate women faced during the Great Recession and the subsequent recovery years, and 1 in 4 (25%) women working part-time wanted full-time work, but were unable to obtain it for economic reasons, such as their employer not giving them full-time hours. The outlook is even worse for Black and Latina woman as nearly 1 in 7 Black women (14.0%) ages 20 and over were unemployed in June, which is nearly 3 times higher than their pre-pandemic unemployment rate (4.8% in February), and more than 1 in 7 (15.3%) Latinas ages 20 and over were unemployed in June, over three times higher than their unemployment rate in February (4.9%)

A patchwork of back-to-school options is another potential wrench in women’s progress across the country. Boston Consulting Group’s recent study of working parents finds that 60% of parents have not found alternative childcare in the wake of school and daycare closures, and with modified return options available this fall, many additional women are leaving the workforce. Whether by choice or necessity, in terms of workforce and leadership participation, that is an action that could have ramifications for years to come.

We can’t let the events of this year stall our progress. In the study, “COVID-19 and Gender Equality: Countering the Regressive Effects,” McKinsey researchers defined three potential scenarios in the post–COVID-19 world of women at work. “The first is a gender-regressive ’do nothing’ scenario. It assumes that the higher negative impact of COVID-19 on women remains unaddressed, and it compares GDP outcomes in 2030 to the case in which women’s employment growth tracks that of men in the recovery. The second is a ’take action now’ scenario, which would improve parity relative to the gender-regressive one. The third is a ’wait to take action’ scenario continuing until the economic impact of COVID-19 subsides.”

The best option for a substantial increase in economic opportunity is to “take action now.” Policy makers would make decisions, in 2020 and beyond to significantly improve gender equality over the next decade. Researchers estimate that the global value of achieving best-in-region gender-parity improvements by 2030 could lead to $13 trillion of incremental GDP in that year and create 230 million new jobs for women globally.

Employers can also take action now. In fact, many are. One obvious action is to add flexibility to the workplace, for women and men, especially in these unprecedented times. And that doesn’t just mean remote work. It can also mean a four-day work week, or shifting work hours (especially now), and moving forward to better accommodate the difference between office hours and school hours, or the “child-care crisis between 3 and 5 p.m.”

In a community where public-school students are headed back two days a week, one healthcare system was recently quoted as saying that they have surveyed employees to find out their needs and are “aggressively pursuing creative solutions.”

“Our most precious resource is our employees, and we know the most precious thing in their lives is most often their children,” spokesperson Kaitlyn McConnell said. “As area schools release their plans for the start of the school year, CoxHealth knows that many of the system’s employees are anxious about what the next few months will mean for their children, and how the changes will affect their jobs. We also know that it’s important to keep our staff members at work and able to care for the community.”

That creative approach and many others are what’s needed right now. We need to collectively take action and keep women employed and in the pipeline for advancement. And we need to think big-picture and develop plans to regain the steps we may have lost during this crisis. We are all struggling with this continued uncertainty. These are the times when we need to come together to help each other through, not allow it to overwhelm us and remember that our progress is important, not only to women, but to everyone’s recovery. We can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. The times beg for great leadership, and women are uniquely qualified to lead in these times. Do NOT allow COVID to stop your progress. Think of one action you can take to lift women up and create a new year of the woman now.

What the COVID Crisis Reveals about Women’s Work

Mom and daughter in front of computerInvisible women’s work just became abundantly visible amid the quarantine of the COVID crisis. While sheltered at home, Zoom calls broadcast the juggling act women perform when child-care, home-schooling and working from home all merge into the same time and place. Fluctuating back to school plans are happening as many parents are hitting the burnout stage after struggling to balance remote work and homeschooling for weeks on end. It’s hard to remain responsive to your team and meet the demands of what had previously been a 40 hour per week job and educate, entertain, cook, and care for your children. Video calls have become balancing acts, deadlines a family affair, and advancement? That’s too far down the list to even contemplate – especially as many women are often finding themselves finishing up their workday after the kids are in bed, or in the wee hours of the morning, before their day begins again.

The struggle to get it all done isn’t new, but the pandemic has shone a light on the lopsided division of household labor and highlighted the fact that our current path – even before coronavirus – is not sustainable. Monica Hesse recently wrote in The Washington Post that “we can lobby for equal wages, promoting women, and harassment-free workplaces, but progress toward true equality hinges on chores — the diapers and the dishes and the hundreds of other essential tasks that must be performed, even if we pretend they don’t exist.” She also writes that “We shouldn’t try to return to business-as-usual until we address that “usual” has been pretty sucky for working parents.”

Usually, it’s the women that are bearing the brunt of the increased household labor, and that was true before the pandemic too. There just wasn’t as much of it. Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time says that there is a whole body of research around what’s called “the mental load” that women disproportionately bear.

“It’s all of the stuff that you have to keep in your mind. It’s just an explosion of details and logistics and planning and organizing. And it’s not like laundry that you can see when it’s done. You only know when people haven’t done it, if it falls apart or where somebody has an emotional meltdown,” Brigid said. “Part of the mental load is also this emotional labor, taking everybody’s emotional temperature, making sure everybody is feeling heard and getting their needs met. It can be absolutely exhausting. And when people don’t see it and don’t recognize it and don’t value it, it can be very demoralizing.”

The levels of emotional labor during the pandemic have skyrocketed. Employees are always parenting now, and moms are always working. Researchers at the Council on Contemporary Families found that the number of couples who reported sharing housework had grown by 58 percent during the pandemic, from 26 to 41 percent, and while that increase is notable, we’ve still got a way to go. According to Boston Consulting Group, women are tackling 15 hours more of domestic labor per week than their spouses, and a United Nations policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on women warned that “even the limited gains made in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back.”

To keep things moving forward, we need to look at the opportunities the current state of affairs presents, discover ways we can reshape the workplace to be more supportive, and look at how that will impact families and gender equality. While labor inequalities in the household have been problematic, they’ve also oftentimes started conversations – at home and at work. In a survey recently conducted for Catalyst, 71 percent of working people said they believe COVID-19 will have a positive impact on gender equality in the workplace. In the same survey, 39 percent of people said they see their company “taking steps after the pandemic to enhance gender equity as a priority in the workplace.”

Flexibility should now become a built-in feature of how we work, for women and men, and that doesn’t just mean remote work. Alison Goldman writes in The Lily that flexibility can also mean a four-day work week, or shifting work hours (especially now), and moving forward to better accommodate the difference between office hours and school hours, or the “child-care crisis between 3 and 5 p.m.” She also quoted Manon DeFelice, founder and chief executive of Inkwell as saying, “There’s a whole spectrum of what flexibility can be, and I think it’s up to the company to decide for each role what they’re willing to allow for in terms of flexibility and what those managers are willing to allow for that flexibility.”

Whether at home or in the office, and whether our kids go back to school or not, we need to remember that are connected more than ever before, and navigating these uncharted waters together. We can still support one another in the workplace; we can drop off groceries for a neighbor if we go out, or we can share resources and entertainment ideas for our children with one another. We can lean on one another virtually and should try to use electronic means to connect with another woman every day. Community matters. And most importantly, keep in mind that we are all struggling with this continued uncertainty. These are the times when we need to come together as a community to help each other through. Remember, we’re all in this together.

Change Can Create Opportunity for Women, Men and Business

work from homeThe COVID-19 crisis has not only changed the ways we live, work, and play, it has changed the way we earn, learn, and interact with one another. With states opening up, some business leaders are grappling with ways to keep everyone safe, while others are recognizing the benefits of keeping their workforce at home. As everyone adjusts to this current normal, the door is open to create flexibility in our workplaces that makes professional opportunities and work environments more equitable to women and men, and a more profitable new normal for business.

Big business is waking up to work-from-home opportunities. Walmart announced that tech workers don’t have to return to the office anytime soon — or potentially, ever. The decision follows Twitter, which recently told employees that they can continue to work from home “forever” if they’re in a role that allows it. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg also said the company is ramping up hiring remote workers and predicts that 50 percent of its employees could be working remotely within the next five to 10 years. Google has also announced that workers who don’t need to be onsite can extend their work-from-home arrangement until the end of the year.

The work-from-home forever response to COVID isn’t limited to the tech sector. Studies find that as many as half of those employed before the pandemic shifted to working remotely and at companies where remote work is possible, many now expect it to continue for quite some time. So, whether your desk doubles as the dining room table for the rest of the summer or beyond, at three months and counting, remote work isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

This is fortunate as many are thriving in the current workplace setup and are hesitant to return to the office. According to Gallup, three in five U.S. workers who have been doing their jobs from home during the coronavirus pandemic would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible, once public health restrictions are lifted. In contrast, 41% would prefer to return to their workplace or office to work, as they did before the crisis.

What Do These Changes Mean for Women?

While many women have long wanted the flexibility that included part or full-time work-from-home, the COVID-19 version isn’t an option they would choose but is one they must endure. Work-from-home coupled with the continued dangers of the pandemic is isolating and hard on those who live alone. Those with children also find it more difficult because of COVID-19, as their supports are shut down and they’re juggling work, childcare, home schooling, and more.

New evidence from Lean In found that since the shutdown, more than half of all women are struggling with sleep issues. Far more women than men with full-time jobs and families say they have more to do than they can possibly handle. This is resulting in increased stress in women’s personal and professional lives. However, men are noticing. While women are juggling as fast as they can, men’s COVID experience of balancing unpaid work with paid work is eye-opening. In fact, a recent study on working parents found that twice as many fathers as mothers described caregiving during the lockdown as extremely difficult and 38% very strongly agreed that they should be doing more of the unpaid work at home.

Harvard Business Review predicts how this might play out for women’s equity, “Because men vastly outnumber women in senior leadership roles in most organizations, this is a golden opportunity for men-as-allies to purposefully leverage their newfound experience balancing teleworking and domestic partnership to truly move the needle on full gender equity. As organizational change agents, male leaders must demonstrate vision, courage, and genuine collaboration with women to rework policies, practices, and systems in order to create a new normal in our post-pandemic workplace, as well as in society more broadly.”

It’s time for these male leaders to become our allies and partner with us to advocate for change and flexibility. These past weeks have proven that work-from-home options are not only viable, but preferable for many, and with the return of societal supports, could be exactly what women need to shake up the traditional five-day-at-work model that comes with the “Motherhood Penalty” we’ve tried to eliminate for so long. We need equitable sick leave, and for our male counterparts to do their fair share when it comes to taking sick kids to the doctor or staying home with them. Of course, we still need affordable childcare too.

This time of great change creates an ideal opportunity for us to level the playing field and make gender equality a key feature of the new normal. Moving forward, women and men need to work together, and employers need to seek ways that blend work and family to maintain high-performing employees, economize of the cost of high turnover and physical office space, and reap the rewards of talent in the right places. We’re all in this together and if we all want to benefit from these difficult times, we need to support one another, be clear with our intentions and look for ways to change crisis into the kind of opportunity in which everyone wins.

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