Guest post by Sarah Bull
The current pandemic has upended everyone’s life in a major way. There are the obvious impacts — the health risks, the fears, the disruptions to everyday life. Some are less certain, more muddled: Does the virus cause long-term damage? Has education changed forever? However, some impacts are so insidious that they could go entirely unnoticed if we don’t fight for them. One such impact: the future of women in the workplace.
With schools and childcare closed (or at least complicated) across the country, parents are tasked with taking on that load. Disproportionately, this work falls on women. There are many reasons for this, stretching back centuries. The fact of the matter is that unless we do something about it, the hard-fought position women have established in the workplace could slip from our fingers. Here’s a look at a few of the causes, as well as what we can do to stop it.
Why Are Women’s Careers at Risk?
We like to think we’ve entered into an egalitarian society, but that idea doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Yes, women are more respected in the workplace than ever before, and yes, men are stepping up to the plate when housework in ways their fathers and grandfathers never considered. However, the gender gap in domestic labor is still pronounced; women take on more than half of housework, childcare, and other unpaid tasks to maintain a home.
When the pandemic struck, this gap widened. Women have been more likely to cut back hours or quit entirely to take care of kids suddenly at home. This doesn’t just come down to society's expectations about mothers and fathers, however. Industries dominated by women, such as education, have been hit harder by the pandemic. The gender pay gap contributes as well: Statistically speaking, men usually make more than their female partners. If you’re going to lose an income, it makes sense to lose the smaller one.
Although it makes sense practically, it is still certain to have major ramifications for women. Career breaks for childcare are believed to be one of the leading causes of the aforementioned pay gap. Time spent as a stay-at-home parent is time women can’t get back, and their resumes — and future salaries — suffer as a result.
How to Overcome
Women’s careers need to be protected on a society-wide level. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee this will happen. As a result, it’s on women to fight for their careers in the meantime. One way you can do this is to work from home in whatever capacity you can manage.
One great option for women looking to work from home is taking up a freelance career. Since freelancing puts you in control of your workload and schedule, you can fit your work around your family’s needs. Look for relevant work in your industry. For example, if you work as a department store clothing buyer, you can search for opportunities as a fashion writer. You’ll be able to bring in extra income and, even if you’re not working full time, you’ll keep your resume current and avoid large gaps. Not comfortable with freelancing’s inherent instability? There are also plenty of full- and part-time remote jobs that offer flexible scheduling.
As a society, we need to focus on supporting mothers — and fathers — who take on childcare during the pandemic. Companies should offer flexible scheduling wherever possible. Hiring managers in the future should consider disregarding employment gaps timed during the pandemic. And we should all work to recognize the disproportionate weight of domestic work placed upon women’s shoulders so that we can manage the repercussions with equity.
Experts fear the pandemic could set women’s liberation back by decades. With forethought, dedication, and solidarity, however, we can prevent this from happening. We all have to do our part to protect women in the workplace and continue moving toward an equal society for all.
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