Gender Equality Challenges in the Wake of the Pandemic
By: SARAH HOFFMAN | January 12, 2021
Before the novel coronavirus swept through the world, things were looking bright for women in the US workplace. For the first time in almost a decade, women made up the majority of the workforce; 42% of businesses were women-owned; women with patents went from 4% in 1976 to almost 22% in 2019; at each level in the pipeline, the number of women was increasing. And then the pandemic hit.
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Although coronavirus is twice as deadly for men,2 the pandemic has had an enormous impact on women, including:

Mental health declines. According to a recent Gallup poll, women have been more concerned about contracting Covid-19 than men throughout the pandemic.3 Perhaps not surprisingly, 57% of mothers with kids under 18 reported worsening mental health compared to 32% of fathers.4 Women are also more than twice as likely as men to be experiencing physical symptoms of severe anxiety, such as a racing heartbeat (25% vs. 11%), and more than half of women are dealing with sleep issues, compared to about a third of men.5

Additional unpaid responsibilities. Even before the coronavirus crisis, women spent about four hours a day on household work, compared with about 2.5 hours for men.6 While men have increased the time spent on domestic work, specifically childcare, research shows that many people still consider this work to be a woman’s responsibility.7 And now women spend almost 20 more hours a week on both housework and caregiving (including caring for elderly or sick relatives) than men in the same situation.8 The numbers are even higher for Latinas and Black women; they’re spending 4 to 12 more hours per week on childcare than white women and 15 to 20 more hours caring for elderly or sick relatives.9 Predictably, 31% of working women with families say they have more to do than they can possibly handle (compared to 13% of working men with families).10 “The inequities that existed before are now on steroids,” said Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard University.11 An additional concern: many fathers aren’t noticing. Half of fathers with children under 12 reported spending more time on childcare than their spouse since the pandemic, while only 3% of women say their spouse is doing more (80% say they are spending more time on it).12

Halted publications. In April, several academic journals said that submissions from women were down.13 In some cases, where women were still publishing, it was only with men; solo submissions for women still dropped.14 In one case, solo-authored papers by women went from 22% to 17%.15 Interestingly, even as the number of submissions from women decreased, the number of submissions from men increased, sometimes by almost 50%.16 This could have a long term impact for women who may be coming up for tenure over the next few years.

Decreased promotions and pay raises. Many companies have been talking about the productivity increase that seemed to occur when work shifted to home offices. Yet, this doesn’t seem to be true for everyone. Women working remotely in a home with children were less likely to report being more productive, compared to men in the same situation (46% vs. 77%).17 They were also less likely to receive a promotion (9% vs 34%), a pay raise (13% vs. 26%), or additional leadership responsibilities (10% vs 28%).18

Voluntary and involuntary workforce exits. The pandemic ushered in the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, and, in March and April, women accounted for 55% of the job losses.19 Women are more likely to worry that they won’t be able to pay for essentials.20 This is especially true for Black women have been hit even harder by layoffs, reduced hours, and furloughs.21 And, more women are actively considering leaving the workforce out of necessity.22 Between August and September, 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce – four times the number of men.23 Black women are even more likely to consider downshifting or taking a leave from work and cite health concerns as a reason.24 Men also tend to have jobs that allow for working from home more than women (28% vs 22%).25 In the 2008 recession, the hardest-hit sectors were male-dominated industries such as construction and housing, leaving many women to retrain to boost their earning potential. That option isn’t available to many women now when there is no childcare to rely on.26

How can employers upgrade benefits to help women who are dealing with these issues? Nearly half of companies have added or expanded parenting and homeschooling benefits and mental health counseling and 28% have increased emergency loans or grants for employees.27 Is this enough? While companies like Microsoft and Alphabet offer employees months of pandemic-related parental leave, and Salesforce, PepsiCo, Uber, and Pinterest signed a pledge to offer more flexibility and resources for working parents, almost 60% of workers say their employer hasn’t offered more flexibility.28 Numerous studies have shown that more diverse firms outperform their peers.29 Yet, people who drop out of the workforce, even for a short time, often have trouble reentering. In one experiment, skilled job applicants who were unemployed for more than six months were less likely to be called back than those with no relevant work experience.30 While many companies have added new benefits to help employees cope and asked managers to check in on employees’ mental health, most companies haven’t changed anything about their performance reviews and only 8% have asked managers to reduce their teams’ workload.31 Are there other strategies employers can take when looking to recruit and retain women during these uncertain times?

According to a recent Wells Fargo survey, the median retirement savings among men was $120,000. For women, it was $60,000. And for those who have been impacted by the pandemic, this drops to $60,000 for men, and just $21,000 for women.32 In addition to financial struggles, women also tend to be less financially literate than men. A recent study found that only 12% of women showed a high level of financial knowledge, compared to 27% of men.33 And results were even lower for Gen Z, Black, and Hispanic women. Are there new approaches companies can explore to help educate women and others financially? Also, it’s not just women and men who haven’t been impacted equally. 75% of households suffered declining income since the start of the pandemic, and 82% of those were poorer households.34 Higher paid workers are more likely to be able to work from home, and lower paid workers are more likely to be in sectors such as hotels and restaurants that suspended activities.35 Are there strategies financial services firms can take to help people increase emergency savings before another crises occurs?

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1 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-03/coronavirus-is-disproportionately-impacting-women
2 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/07/health/coronavirus-new-york-men.html
3 https://news.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/321698/covid-responses-men-women.aspx
4 https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-parents-stress-066aa3e1-d1d9-4112-84ed-c65184d04e39.html
5 LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey poll, 4/13/20–4/17/20. Women are Maxing out – and Burning Out – During Covid-19.
6 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/22/us/politics/women-coronavirus-2020.html
7 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/06/upshot/pandemic-chores-homeschooling-gender.html
8 LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey poll, 4/13/20–4/17/20. Women are Maxing out – and Burning Out – During Covid-19.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/03/business/economy/coronavirus-working-women.html
12 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/06/upshot/pandemic-chores-homeschooling-gender.html
13 https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/04/21/early-journal-submission-data-suggest-covid-19-tanking-womens-research-productivity
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid.
16 https://twitter.com/Samuels_DavidJ/status/1251699111860076553
17 https://www.qualtrics.com/blog/inequitable-effects-of-pandemic-on-careers/
18 Ibid.
19 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-03/coronavirus-is-disproportionately-impacting-women
20 LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey poll, 4/13/20–4/17/20. The Coronavirus is a Financial Crises for Women.
21 Ibid.
22 https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-the-coronavirus-crisis-threatens-to-set-back-womens-careers-11601438460
23 https://www.axios.com/unfairness-inequality-coronavirus-pandemic-f5c41c7c-bc41-4dd1-8ec5-697013ce6bba.html
24 https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-the-coronavirus-crisis-threatens-to-set-back-womens-careers-11601438460
25 Alon, T. M., Doepke, M., Olmstead-Rumsey, J., & Tertilt, M. (2020). The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality (No. w26947). National Bureau of Economic Research.
26 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-03/coronavirus-is-disproportionately-impacting-women
27 Thomas, R., Cooper, M., & Cardazone, G. (2020). Women in the Workplace 2020. McKinsey & Company and Lean In.
28 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-03/coronavirus-is-disproportionately-impacting-women
LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey poll, 4/13/20–4/17/20. Women are Maxing out – and Burning Out – During Covid-19.
29 Hunt, V., Prince, S., Dixon-Fyle, S., & Yee, L. (2018). Delivering through diversity. McKinsey & Company Report. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Business%20Functions/Organization/Our%20Insights/Delivering%20through%20diversity/Delivering-through-diversity_full-report.ashx
30 https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-terrifying-reality-of-long-term-unemployment/274957/
31 https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-the-coronavirus-crisis-threatens-to-set-back-womens-careers-11601438460
32 https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20201021005741/en/
33 https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/17/the-biggest-financial-challenge-women-face-in-the-covid-crisis.html
34 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/covid-19-is-increasing-multiple-kinds-of-inequality-here-s-what-we-can-do-about-it/
35 Ibid.
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