While the pandemic and various business and school lockdowns have been difficult for everyone, all around, there have been countless articles and studies to suggest that they are especially difficult for working mothers. Why?
Even in two-income households, and despite how far we have come in pursuing a gender-neutral society, a lot of the child-care responsibilities fall on women. And when it comes to professional females trying to further their careers, start their own businesses, and develop skills, many are finding themselves in an especially challenging situation. They have to put things on pause, or do double duty working as pseudo-teachers to their kids who are distance learning from home; or caring for babies and toddlers who aren’t able to go to daycare. For single mothers? Forget it. It’s a near impossibility to pursue a professional career while being the sole caregiver to a child who is home 24/7, especially when unable to solicit the help of others.
The Challenges For Working Mothers
One new study by Kaspersky, in particular, highlights the career progression barriers women in the tech space are facing due to the lockdowns. The report, entitled Where are we now? Understanding the evolution of women in technology, surveyed 13,000 people working in information technology (IT) worldwide, including 1,000 in Canada. Half of the women polled believe COVID-19 has delayed their career progression.
Almost half of the women surveyed also report struggling to juggle work and family life, with the results being the same worldwide, not just in North America. A majority – 63% – say they have been in charge of home-schooling compared to just 52% of men, and 54% of working women have had to adapt their working hours more than men in order to both care for the family and get their business projects done.
What makes the results particularly frustrating is that the work-from-home trend fueled by the pandemic should have otherwise worked to the working mother’s advantage. Under normal circumstances, the ability to have a more flexible schedule and work remotely is exactly what working mothers, especially, have needed in order to achieve a better work-life balance. But because of the added obligations that come with kids being home, many women who own their own businesses, or who were on a fast-track to leadership positions, had to step down or halt their efforts. It was either that or burn-out.
The hybrid strategy many companies are employing, which allows some people to work remotely and others to work in the office, is causing further disadvantages to working women. “This can be a challenge for women working remotely as they may experience less access to top management working from offices,” says Dr. Patricia Gestoso, Head of Scientific Customer Support at BIOVIA. “This may decrease their chances to be considered for the kind of stretch assignments that lead to promotions.”
A separate report by Freshbooks called Busines Resiliency During COVID-19 found that, on average, women-owned businesses in the U.S. are taking close to three times longer to recover from the financial setbacks that have resulted from the pandemic, compared to businesses owned by men. And close to 60% of the women surveyed said it would take them longer than six months to recover, compared to just 47% of men. Thus, these effects, and disadvantages, will be felt long after the pandemic has come to an end.
The Potential for Working Mothers
There might be a silver lining to the otherwise frustrating situation. Since many companies have no choice but to embrace remote work right now, this could persuade them to continue the trend once lockdowns have ended. If employees can prove that they can be as efficient, if not more, while working from home, the argument of reduced productivity can be easily invalidated. Despite what many companies initially believed, women and men have shown that they can work more efficiently from home. According to the Kaspersky report, 33% say they have more autonomy.
The question is, can working moms maintain the same level of productivity when kids who would normally be at school for six hours a day are now home and require educational assistance that, in many cases, they have to provide?
Nevertheless, close to half of women believe that remote working structures will promote gender equality in the workplace by levelling the playing field, the Kaspersky report notes.
And while lockdowns have been especially taxing on some women, others have been able to adapt, either thanks to having especially self-sufficient kids, live-in help, or partners who can share in the added child-care responsibilities.
“The effect of the pandemic broadly differed for women,” confirmed Dr. Patricia Gestoso, Head of Scientific Customer Support at BIOVIA. “Some appreciated the greater flexibility and lack of commute from working at home, whilst others shared that they were on the verge of burnout.”
What Can We Do?
Even with the added convenience of remote working, and with help from partners and others, where permitted, working mothers are still getting the short end of the professional stick because of lockdowns. The hard truth is that many have had to put their career goals on hold or turn down opportunities.
What can we all do to help? Businesses would be wise to offer additional support for mothers who are dealing with the challenges of the pandemic by permitting not only remote, but also flexible work hours. Consider temporarily reducing workloads or providing extra time, where possible, so working mothers can participate in projects that could prove beneficial to their careers long-term. Of course, no employee should get special treatment just because they have kids. But they also shouldn’t be disadvantaged because of that either. And the unfortunate reality is that, even in two-income households, women are still largely the ones sacrificing their time for child-care during lockdown.
For mothers who have been trying to get their own businesses off the ground, it’s worth researching female-led companies and doing what we can to support them, whether it’s partnering with them, buying from them, or investing in them. Once COVID-19 is behind us, working mothers will be passionate and fiercely determined to succeed, make up for lost time, and enjoy the success they deserved to have before they had to put things on hold for the sake of their kids.
“Companies need to signal, both through culture and policy, that they will give working parents of both genders the flexibility they need during COVID (and beyond),” says Merici Vinton, Co-Founder and CEO at Ada’s List. “Companies need to understand that representation does matter and having women in leadership, majority-women teams, and women in interviews demonstrates that there’s space for women in their company.”