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Standing With the Women of Afghanistan

Stand_With_Afghan_WomenIn Afghanistan, the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops last month, signaled an end to much of the progress that women in the country had made, and many of the rights they had come to enjoy. While Taliban leadership assured citizens that they would allow women to work and pursue education, the hard-handed Taliban rule of the 90’s, left many Afghans afraid that those pledges would not be fulfilled. If the past couple of weeks are any indication, those fears are well founded.

Today there are no women in the Taliban’s newly named interim cabinet, and the country’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs was abolished. And although women can continue to study in universities, classrooms will now be gender-segregated, Islamic dress is compulsory, and subjects being taught are under review. All of this despite the fact that over the past twenty years millions of Afghan girls and women were able to attend school, hold a job and help shape their destiny for the first time. After years of not being able to leave their homes without a male chaperone, their educational opportunities allowed them to become judges, teachers, journalists, police officers, and government ministers. However, the Taliban recently told working women to stay at home, admitting they were not safe in the presence of the militant group’s soldiers, which means Afghan women are now effectively locked out of participation and leadership in the communities they helped form.

As if that were not enough, Afghan women and girls have been banned from playing sports as the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, said women’s sport was considered neither appropriate nor necessary. According to NPR, ads showing women’s faces have also been blacked out and Taliban members have been erasing street art and murals that often conveyed public service messages.

How have the women of Afghanistan responded to these actions (and many more)? Loudly. Last week, dozens of Afghan women demonstrated in the western city of Herat to demand their rights to employment and education. This week Hannah Bloch writes at NPR.com that “Day after day, Afghan women have taken to the streets in groups large and small to protest against Taliban rule, the regime’s new curbs on their rights and Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan.” In Kabul, they demanded equal rights, and women in government and others demanded “azadi” or freedom. In response, the Taliban have at times used force — wielding whips, beating women with batons, pointing guns and firing weapons into the air.

This situation is only days old and events are continuing to unfold at a horrifying pace. Gloria Steinem reached out and asked supporters to join her in an Emergency Response for Afghan Women. Donor Direct Action, which she co-convened with South African Judge Navi Pillay, supports a front-line women’s group in Afghanistan that has protected Afghan women and children since 1999. She and Jessica Neuwirth recently spoke with the leadership of this group and said, “It was heartbreaking to hear first-hand from Kabul about the scale of this crisis and the utter lack of resources to respond. These women are fearless and inspiring, and they need our help. That is why I am convening this Emergency Response for Afghan women.” Women for Women International is providing emergency support for Afghan women, The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security is taking action to help protect Afghan women and human rights leaders, as well as many, many other organizations.

Write letters, donate if you can, raise awareness and lend your voice. We need to stand together with the women of Afghanistan and help them any way we can.

Why We Must Help Women Get Back to Work

Back_to_WorkIt should be obvious why we must help women get back to work. The past 16 months have illuminated women’s fragile hold on the delicate balance of income-producing work and unpaid work at home. COVID-19’s devastating effect on the world has especially impacted women. In the US, women lost more than 5 million jobs between the start of the pandemic and November 2020. V, formerly Eve Ensler, writes in The Guardian, “Because much of women’s work requires physical contact with the public – restaurants, stores, childcare, healthcare settings – theirs were some of the first to go.”

The pandemic has intensified women’s existing challenges exposing the systemic inequalities that threaten not only women in the workplace, but our continued ability to thrive. V also writes that “Covid has revealed the fact that we live with two incompatible ideas when it comes to women. The first is that women are essential to every aspect of life and our survival as a species. The second is that women can easily be violated, sacrificed and erased.”

Many governmental and private organizations are scrambling for optimal ways to respond to the pandemic’s damaging effects on women. As the pandemic restrictions ease up and people begin to return to work, many women remain on the sidelines. In fact, there are 1.8 million fewer women in the labor force today than before COVID, and with widespread labor shortages, labor economists are worried.

Stephanie Aaronson, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution recently told NPR that the reason for so many women remaining unemployed is due to a complex mix of factors. “Some of those could start to subside as the economy recovers, and jobs come back, and schools reopen, and the health situation improves.”

“But a return to pre-pandemic levels could take a long time, in part because women tend to stick with the decisions they’ve made.” Aaronson says. “A mother who decided to stay home with her children in the pandemic may end up out of the workforce for years.”

That’s not good for the economy or the future advancement of women. According to the National Women’s Law Center, it will take 28 straight months of job gains to get women back to where they were in the labor force before the pandemic started. The US Chamber of Commerce recently reported that “there were a record 8.1 million job openings in the U.S. in March 2021 and about half as many available workers for every open job across the country as there have been over the past 20 years.” The Chamber calls the crisis “the most critical and widespread challenge facing businesses.” And its President and CEO, Suzanne Clark said that “keeping our economy going requires we fill these jobs.”

Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari recently told CNN getting people – especially women – back into the labor force is key to keep the recovery going. “We have to find a way to bring [women] back to work. This is about our economic potential. It is certainly about fairness about women and families. But it is also about our economic potential as a nation.”

The question now is, how can we best support women and help them get back to work? While access to affordable childcare, paid parental leave, and flexibility may be the obvious answers, there is more we can do within the workplace to change the corporate culture and make a return more manageable and appealing to women. Jewelle Bickford, Sandra Beach Lin and Ellen Kullman, founders of the Paradigm for Parity Coalition, recently wrote in Entrepreneur that many of the problems we’re facing now are tied to trends that existed long before COVID-19, from disproportionate home care responsibilities to greater representation in low-wage employment, to long-standing gender inequalities in corporate leadership.

To reverse those trends and make a return doable for women, Bickford, Beach Lin and Kullman recommend we should engage in unconscious bias training to understand, own and address both conscious and unconscious biases that prevent women from succeeding. They also recommend that we increase the number of women in senior roles – which makes perfect sense because when women advance, they tend to take other women with them. The writers also recommend identifying women of potential and providing them with sponsors, mentors, and the tools they need to advance and succeed.

Ultimately, we need to collectively take action on every level to get and keep women employed and in the pipeline for advancement. And we need to think big-picture and develop plans to regain the progress we have lost during this crisis. By fixing the conspicuous inequities in the system that have always held women back, we can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever and finally get women back to work in leadership positions that don’t get erased during the next disaster.  Equity for women creates prosperity and stable system that is able to weather future crises in ways that protect us all—men and women—together.

 

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.

 

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.

Together in This Time of Crisis

Together in This Time of Crisis“It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets.” – Michelle Obama

This last week has been difficult. The country is reeling. We’ve seen the anger from racism being ignored for too long spill out into the streets in the form of protest. Right now, it would be easy for us to turn away and ignore the pain and rage that is exploding in our cities. It would be easy for us to feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed by what is happening. But what we need, instead, is to come together in support and unity. We need to stand with our Black and brown sisters and brothers, so that we can make sure we are lifting our country up toward equality and justice.

This goes far deeper than you may imagine. Several doctors’ groups — the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and American College of Physicians — are emphasizing that racism is a public health issue and they’re calling for police brutality to stop. The American Psychological Association has also issued a statement calling racism a pandemic.

“We are living in a racism pandemic, which is taking a heavy psychological toll on our African American citizens. The health consequences are dire,” said APA president Sandra Shullman. “Racism is associated with a host of psychological consequences, including depression, anxiety and other serious, sometimes debilitating conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Moreover, the stress caused by racism can contribute to the development of cardiovascular and other physical diseases.”

Gloria Feldt, Co-founder and President of Take The Lead, recognizes that current events lead to high tensions, grief and rage on top of the coronavirus pandemic, but pointed out that Take The Lead stands firmly for equality and parity, and against racism and injustice. Women Connect4Good stands with them. Racism and injustice cannot be tolerated, and discrimination in any form is not okay.

“There’s a special kind of leadership that the world needs now—positive, inclusive, and empathetic leadership that embraces power as the ‘Power TO’ change the world for the better,” Gloria said. “Perhaps this is the moment when together we can lead from the power TO create more justice and more abundance instead of leading from fear—whether fear of losing privilege or fear of losing our lives. We can change the narrative and show the world that there is no finite pie, and when we help each other we all can have more.”

She’s right. When we shift the narrative and help each other, we can use our collective power to move change forward. Hashtags and online discourse aren’t going to cut it anymore. We have to take steps – literally – to change things for the better, and to create a world that is equal on every level.

Dr. Sheila Robinson, Publisher and CEO of Diversity Woman Media, said in Dr. Nancy’s recently released documentary that we need to focus on the things we can learn from and focus on creating more solutions. “I think that what we all want is the same thing – every woman, every race, every culture, every background – we want a safe place where we can work and we can be valued for what we’re worth so that we can share those rewards with our families. We want our children to have great educations. We want safe homes for our families, and we want to be able to support our partners.”

To our Black and brown sisters and brothers, know that we are with you. You matter to us. Your lives matter. You, your family and your friends make our communities better. Together we have the power TO change the world. We stand with you and are working alongside you for change.

 

Building Gender Equality Instead of Returning to Normal

Gender-EqualityWhile the country takes steps to reopen, and the news cycles are filled with examinations of society returning to normal, Hawaii is taking steps to rebuild rather than simply return to the status quo. In fact, the state is looking to seize the opportunity “to build a system that is capable of delivering gender equality.”

Hawaii is the first state to propose what it’s calling a “Feminist Economic Recovery Plan,” and some of the basic ideas touted in Building Bridges Not Walking On Backs include raising the minimum wage to a living wage ($24.80/hour for single mothers), the adoption of a universal basic income, universal single payer health care, paid sick days and paid family leave, a restructuring of the tax system, publicly funded childcare for all essential workers, and more.

Hawaii is unique in that it has some of the highest costs for childcare and elder care, and the largest shortage of care services in the U.S., which is why women have pointed out the need for social share infrastructure. The plan, produced by the state’s Commission on the Status of Women, addresses that need as part of a call for “deep cultural change” by explicitly incorporating the unique needs of indigenous and immigrant women, caregivers, elderly women, femme-identifying and non-binary people, incarcerated women, unsheltered women, domestic abuse and sex trafficking survivors, and women with disabilities.

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has called COVID-19 “the great equalizer” and this plan out of Hawaii illustrates that it is time to take that point to heart and look at a ways to build a future that sustains us all. The plan states that, “Rather than rush to rebuild the status quo of inequality, we should encourage a deep structural transition to an economy that better values the work we know is essential to sustaining us. We should also address the crises in healthcare, social, ecological and economic policies laid bare by the epidemic.”

Looking beyond COVID-19, the International Labour Organization, UN Women, and the European Union have also called on G7 nations to put measures in to promote gender equality moving forward. Citing the fact that the pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities and exposed cracks in social, political and economic systems, the organizations find that women with care responsibilities, informal workers, low-income families, and youth are under particular pressure.

Hilde Hardeman, Head of the European Commission’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI), said, “We can say that the COVID-19 crisis is gender biased looking at its impact on women-owned businesses, on the burden women are facing during the crisis, at the increase of gender based violence, but the COVID crisis is also an opportunity to rebuild back better. Our efforts should now concentrate on putting women at the centre of the recovery.”

While these past weeks have been a time of personal reflection, we need to revisit that piece of graffiti in Hong Kong that proclaims, “We can’t return to normal, because the normal we had was precisely the problem.”

It’s time to tackle the elephant in the room. As we look ahead, sure, there are personal changes we want to take forward with us – like unscheduled weekends or daily walks, routine self-care, time to make art, time with friends, or watching the sunset. But we also need to look beyond that and address changes that need to be made in the workplace, and systemic changes in our society. We need to take this time to look for ways to close the pay gap, to get more women into leadership roles, to address sexism, and bias. We need to pressure our elected officials to make sure that women have the supports they need to thrive, and to make meaningful contributions to their families and communities. And ultimately, we need to look for ways to tackle these issues together and build a society that is truly gender equal and sustains us all. Now – before things return to normal – we need to pause, take stock, and redefine normal.

 

 

 

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