It is widely known that women, and especially women of color, face countless challenges in the workplace.
Every year reports like Lean In & McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace,” PwC’s “Women in Work,” and WEF’s “Global Gender Gap Report” study the state of women in the corporate world. Many argue that the mere fact that these reports exist is a good indicator of the changing of the tides for gender inequality in the workplace (the first step towards change is awareness of the problem, right?).
However, as research has proven, the pandemic has already undone what limited progress has been made, setting gender equality back decades. Women have been hit both economically and socially, they are not just vulnerable in terms of job losses, but have been disproportionately burdened with unpaid childcare and household work. Fortune Magazine reported that working women have lost more than thirty years of labor force gains in less than a year. And just last month, the National Women’s Law Center found that the pandemic forced 275,000 women out of the workforce (NWLC research).
The situation is even worse for women of color. Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the NWLC, emphasized how women of color have been bearing the brunt of this crisis, remarking that "if white men’s unemployment rates [during COVID] were as high as Black and Latina women's, we would have done something about it already."
One of the main challenges women in the workplace face today is that the brunt of unpaid childcare and household work falls on them. The unequal distribution of labor is reinforced by traditional social and cultural gender norms (a tale as old as time). Layering in school and childcare closures and the burden on mothers is dramatically exacerbated by the pandemic.
As Lean In & McKinsey’s research found: during the pandemic, more than one in four women are downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely (something that, the report adds, many would have considered unthinkable before the pandemic). Not surprisingly, according to an analysis health-care, start-up Maven conducted, 9.8 million working mothers in the U.S. are suffering from burnout (as CNBC reported).
Moreover, another challenge women have to face in the workplace has to do with the blurring of boundaries between work and home that come with working remotely. The research found that women feel like they need to be “always-on,” that they need to be available to work at all hours of the day just to prove their competency.
This is especially true for women in leadership roles. Compared to men at the same level women are much more likely to suffer burnout, experience pressure to work more, and feel that they have to be available at all times. In fact, the research found that senior-level women are almost twice more likely than men (at their same level) to either consider downshifting their role or leaving the workforce altogether.
This puts the state of women in the workplace in further peril because research proves that senior-level women are more likely to both mentor other women and champion a culture of gender diversity within the company. Unmistakably, McKinsey & Lean In’s joint research found that “more than 50 percent of senior-level women say they consistently take a public stand for gender and racial equity at work.” So if senior-level women leave the workforce who will champion and sponsor those junior women?
Working from home also brings another huge challenge for women: they worry about how they are perceived and whether their performance is being negatively judged due to (in many cases, new,) caregiving responsibilities. Women worry about the notions and biases that they are “distracted” by household responsibilities or childcare. Not only do women have to deal with extra responsibilities during COVID, but they have to worry that they are not being perceived as distracted and less competent therefore than their male counterparts.
In addition to all the challenges women in the workplace face, women of color also have to endure what Catalyst research calls an ‘emotional tax.’ Catalyst found that Asian, Black, Latin, and other multiracial employees pay an emotional tax when they feel they have to be on guard to protect themselves against bias. Of the women of color Catalyst surveyed, more than half said they experienced this emotional tax on a daily basis and that this tax hinders how employees show up.” Eventually, if an employee feels like they can’t show up like themself, they may end up leaving the organization altogether.
There are countless other challenges women in the workplace are facing right now, such as poor working conditions for women in essential services, women in the informal economy (either out of jobs or putting their health at risk by continuing). Fortune Magazine found that as many as two million women could leave corporate America due to the pandemic.
Here are some steps you can take to help you deal with these challenges:
Engage in self-care
Whatever self-care looks like for you. Develop a self-care routine. Prioritize sleep. Practice saying no. Enjoy a good workout. Perhaps give tele-therapy a try (it may already be included in your benefits package/covered by your insurance).
Make sure you establish boundaries so that you aren’t taking any more burdens. Have open communication with your organization on work-from-home arrangements, draw a clear line between work and family life. Talk with your employer about what you and your co-workers can reasonably achieve to prevent burnout and anxiety, for instance: establish set hours for meetings, don’t check/reply emails outside typical business hours.
Try creating and following a schedule -- make clear distinctions between your work and family life. Remember not to put too much pressure on yourself with your schedule: make a structured yet flexible schedule. Divide household chores (and childcare if applicable). Remember to delegate!
Ask for frequent feedback instead of just getting it once a year as part of a yearly review (many times with ties determining whether a bonus is coming your way or not).
As strategist and facilitator Lily Jampol said to journalist Alicia Menendez: “If you set up a system where critical feedback is an integral part of your culture and you make it something that happens often and consistently, it becomes less of a tool to punish people and more of a development tool”
Sign this petition
The Marshall Plan for Moms is calling on the government to compensate mothers for all they do to keep our country, society, and families running and whole. Sign this petition to add your voice to the movement.
Choose to Challenge
In keeping with this year’s International Women’s Day theme, make the conscious choice to challenge the status quo in your respective homes and professional communities. Call out bias when you see it. Ask your employer to acknowledge the ‘emotional tax’ women of color experience. Ask your company about what they are doing to promote more women internally. Become your own best advocate by challenging the assumptions people make about you or what you will settle for.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, no magical vaccine to get us out of this crisis. The good news, however, is that through concerted efforts, and choosing to challenge, positive change will come.