As numerous reports confirm, during the pandemic women have shouldered a greater share of domestic responsibilities, in addition to their jobs. A recent McKinsey study found mothers are more than three times as likely to meet the majority of the demands for housework and caregiving during the pandemic, compared with fathers. The burden is even greater if a woman works from home. We have all either experienced or heard about the exhausting task of trying to “balance” the roles of parent, teacher, cook, daycare worker, maid, and breadwinner during the past 15 months.
The disproportionately negative impacts of the pandemic on women are not only affecting us today but will likely carry on into the future. However, there are ways to minimize these impacts, and even reverse the negative trends, for women, our male champions, and organizations that support and reap the benefits of gender equality.
THE PROFESSIONAL IMPACT
Since the start of the pandemic, mothers’ overall work hours fell four to five times as much as fathers’. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported women’s unemployment has increased by nearly three percent more than men’s.
One of the contributing factors to this steeper drop in hours is that women are more dominant in the industries most negatively impacted by the pandemic, including food service, retail, hospitality, education, and manufacturing. Women are also more likely to have challenging work-from-home conditions. The McKinsey study reports more women than men feeling exhaustion, burnout, and pressure to work more.
It is, therefore, not surprising that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are three times more likely than men to take time off work to care for children. A full one-quarter of women in the workforce considered leaving or reducing their hours to meet home demands during the pandemic. For women who leave the workforce, when they return, they will likely receive an offer that is seven percent less than what those currently employed would receive, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says.
THE PERSONAL IMPACT
This situation has affected women’s health. The stressors of the pandemic are more likely to result in hypertension, coronary heart disease, and binge drinking behavior for women.
Another impact we cannot ignore is the rise in domestic violence against women during the pandemic. A study by the University of California, Davis attributes this rise to increased social isolation creating more stress, less support, and situations where victims are not easily able to leave, or to leave at all during the height of the pandemic.
While it would be easy to wallow in these negative statistics, I believe that women are resilient, resourceful, and communal by nature, giving us an advantage in recovery.
But we cannot do it alone. Organizations and their leadership must be intentional in supporting women. This should include tracking key indicators and publicly reporting on progress toward gender equality. In addition, recruiting, hiring, onboarding, development, and promotion functions must be managed in an intentional way.
My law firm—Blank Rome LLP—established a peer group for parents in March 2020 called BR Parents Forum. It provides a platform for both moms and dads to share ideas and information pertinent to working parents and to promote innovation. Significantly, the Forum highlights for firm leadership the particular challenges working parents confront and works together to implement an environment in which parents at the firm have the opportunity to succeed.
What can we do, personally, to protect and advance our role in the workplace? For women, relationships are essential to our health, well-being, and success. Mentoring and seeking mentors are things we should all commit to doing now. Mentors serve as counselors and advocates, helping women address cultural and pay inequities and other career barriers that are still in place. And mentors do not necessarily need to be other women.
What can you do to take care of yourself and stay physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy in the face of these monumental challenges? The answer may be in finding a sense of purpose and taking small but deliberate steps toward meaningful goals.
One of the most important factors in happiness and motivation is a sense of progress. Focus on challenges that stretch your skills and matter to you. Learning a new skill, and then teaching it to others, can lead to fulfillment. It is important to be interested in life, whatever that looks like for you.
Recognizing, acknowledging, and even celebrating small moments is also important for well-being. Research shows that reflecting on gratitude improves our quality of life.
Helping others also helps you. This can be in the form of volunteer work or simply connecting friends or acquaintances who could benefit from knowing each other, sharing an article with someone interested in the topic, or writing a LinkedIn review for a professional colleague. Reconnect with the communities that are important to you.
Seek to find purpose in everyday routines. How you frame your work can improve your sense of satisfaction. Focus on how your job contributes to a greater good and positive relationships with your co-workers. Consider mentoring someone. And, as one of my dear friends taught me, find a silver lining in every day. There always is one, even on the worst days.
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Stacy D. Phillips is a partner at Blank Rome LLP. She is one of the country’s most well-known and respected family law practitioners, handling primarily high-net-worth and high-profile divorce cases. Selected multiple times by the Los Angeles Business Journal as one of LA’s “500 Most Influential People,” she is an author, philanthropist, mentor, and sought-after speaker and commentator on family law and other issues in the news. She can be reached at email@example.com or (424) 239-3400.
1Forbes, 4/18/21, “Women And The Pandemic: Serious Damage To Work, Health And Home Demands Response,” by Tracy Brower 2New York Times, 4/19/21, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing,” by Adam Grant 3New York Times, 5/4/21, “The Other Side of Languishing Is Flourishing. Here’s How to Get There.” by Dani Blum