How the Pandemic Threatens Women’s Progress in The Workplace

Oct 30, 2020

Katie Castillo-Wilson

Katie Castillo-Wilson

TapOnIt Founder + CEO

Women in business

I’m a single mom and the CEO of a tech company.

My kids are 16 and 18. They are going to high school on a hybrid schedule. Thankfully, they are capable of getting themselves up in the morning, to and from school, and they don’t dare ask me for help on their homework because they know I don’t have a clue. I look at moms of young kids who are juggling homeschooling, either full time or on a hybrid schedule, and their jobs—on top of everything else they have to do. These women are amazing and I don’t know how they are keeping it together. 

And I’m willing to bet these women and I have this in common: we’re questioning if it’s possible to work and be a mom during a pandemic. 

Can women continue to have kids at home during the day and work a day job? Based on the number of women-owned businesses that have closed and the number of women leaving the workplace in general, I’m afraid that the answer might be “no.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m still mourning the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As a female entrepreneur, I’ve been and continue to be inspired by her work. As a woman I’m grateful for her tireless work as a champion for women everywhere, changing the way that people viewed gender—including in the workplace. Huge steps forward have been made. But with everything that’s happened in the workplace this year due to the pandemic, I can’t help but think Justice Ginsburg’s work is quickly being undone. 

The reality is there are changes afoot in the workplace due to COVID-19. In some ways, it was so much easier in March when we were all at home—both male and female employees were on the same page. Parents had the opportunity to tag team the kids, housework and caregiving.

In May, this New York Times piece referred to the economic impact of the coronavirus as the “shecession.” Job and income losses are affecting more women than men. Here’s what we know:

Here is what scares me:

The kids are back in school (kind of), and we’re seeing women suffer these changes more than men. In the majority of cases, particularly for working families, men and women have returned to their “traditional” gender roles. The pandemic has intensified all the challenges working women face daily.

Despite the steps forward a woman has taken in her career, the pandemic has likely seen her shouldering more responsibilities at home. It’s typically women who fall into the role of making meals, cleaning the home, taking care of kids and family, as well as helping with homework. 

As we continue to navigate COVID-19, families have to take a good hard look at their lives. For some, a parent may need to stay home, either to homeschool their children, or childcare may not be available, or it no longer makes financial sense. In these cases, it’s often the male family member who continues to work because he makes more money than his female partner. Hello, gender pay gap.

There are a lot of companies working to make it possible for parents to be parents and to work. And while remote working may seem like a solution, the truth is, when you’re not in the office you may be more likely to be passed up for promotions. And as more men go back to the workplace, and more women work from home to balance their career and household, it’ll be men who nab these opportunities. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. Past studies, like this one, indicate that working from home hasn’t resulted in the advancement of women into senior management positions. 

What can be done? At TapOnIt, our leadership team prioritized problem solving when it came to our COVID-era workplace. And I’d advise other businesses to have hard conversations right away. We discovered many of our employees could work remotely and that we can be flexible based on the needs of our employees and their families. For your business, it may look a little different. But find a solution before more women are pushed out of the workplace—don’t make them choose between their career and being a mom.

As Justice Ginsburg once said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”