QUANTUM WINS & LESSONS

Lean In To Your Athena


Lean In To Your Athena


At the outset of 2020, women were making steady progress toward workplace equality. As the Coronavirus advanced upon the world, those hard-won gains took a sharp U-turn. COVID-19 slammed the world, the global economy and the company workspace with meteoric intensity. As lockdowns and stringent COVID regulations were hurriedly implemented, industries were sent reeling, and a tsunami of companies closed down and laid off workers. Many companies, large and small, may never reopen. Others, if they survive at all, will look and operate differently, and in many cases, remotely.


In February of 2020, women held more than half of the nation’s jobs. By April of 2020, more than 20 million Americans had lost their jobs. By May, some 33 million had filed for Unemployment (1). Perhaps no group was hit harder than working women. By September of 2020, the number of women who had to leave the work force were more than four times the number of men (2). According to the National Women’s Law center, some 2.2 million women permanently left the workforce between February and October of 2020 (3).





The Coronavirus has dealt a significant blow to the progress of women in the workforce. In 2019, the year before the pandemic, there were approximately 10 million working mothers with children under the age of six (4). When the pandemic hit in early 2020, schools responded to the imminent danger the virus posed by closing. In addition, the childcare industry was brought to a screeching halt, and suddenly as many as 4.5 million childcare slots vanished (5). It wasn’t as if school was on a snow day for the rest of the year. School districts scrambled and a new education paradigm was brought online in the form of remote learning. Parents who lost their jobs and weren’t working, parents who couldn’t go to work because their at-home children needed supervision, or parents who were trying desperately to work remotely amid household distractions all were suddenly tossed into juggling online school schedules, and helping their kids log on, sit attentively and stay focused during their online classrooms. Because working women with kids bear the majority of responsibility in caring for their children, four to five times more women than men arranged a reduction in their work hours in order to supervise and help teach their at-home children (6).


Working women have been earning their superhero badges for a long time. Yet even the most adept at multi-tasking were stretched to the breaking point with the abrupt challenges foisted upon them during this unprecedented time. Women of color, especially Black, LatinX and Indigenous women, have been impacted to an excruciating degree. Many are single mothers, front line essential workers, healthcare aids, or in low-wage and hard-hit industries such as hospitality and restaurant. Those who have not lost their jobs are caught in a no-win situation, having to decide whether to leave their workplace to care for their children. The scenarios are hard and mean. So many have lost employment, lost wages, lost their healthcare, suffer food insecurity, face the threat of home evictions, and are hanging on desperately despite serious financial problems.


Yes, we women hustle. We have had to hustle and employ creative survival strategies just to provide for the health and wellbeing of our families. We had to become expert at “doing it all” if we ever hoped to plant our feet in a board room, at the top of our professions, in the seat of government, or on the international stage. In order to be taken seriously, to hold our own in the competitive sphere, to have our voices heard, to see our reputations heralded, and to watch our income levels rise, we became the avatars of accomplishment, cobbling together all the moving parts of our lives to achieve our individual success. What we didn’t anticipate on the horizon was a Coronavirus bowling ball rolling down the yellow brick lane of our becoming and smashing hopes and dreams and decades of striving and achievement. What we didn’t foresee was a catastrophe of epic proportions that would cause our society to fall back on its heels and revert to familiar and oppressive practices: sexist societal expectations; racial, gender and ethnic biases; and inequitable social policies.


For better or worse, over the years we women have patterned ourselves after the archetype of the rugged individualist, going it alone against all odds and without safety nets because we live in a society that values autonomy and the self-made success story. Stories are so important in the shaping of a culture. But sometimes an iconic ideal may not be ideal. We must ask ourselves if we have told the right story. The rugged individualist has historically been a male assignation, where women, typically, are aligned with stories of connection, cultivation and caring. In the hot pursuit of our individual success, we are left with the stark realization that we have not created appropriate infrastructures and policies for workplace protection, affordable child care, health care, or family care. The pandemic has exposed our vulnerabilities at the expense of too many women’s lives and futures. We must correct these insufficiencies.


The toll on women in the work force remains to be fully tallied because the pandemic is not yet arrested and the damage and domino effect of hardship and tragedy, economic and otherwise, continue. But the loss for women who have had to interrupt, scale back or leave their careers is real. Lost income translates into reduced wage growth and ultimately decreases a woman’s retirement assets. Women are exhausted, but not beaten. Mega-mom women who have been impacted the most are struggling to keep their families protected, the pieces of their lives collected, and their confidence and ambition resurrected.


This global experience is a teachable moment for us all. The women who still maintain their positions and income must join forces to empower the women who have been broadsided by this pandemic. THOSE WHO CAN right now must come together to assist THOSE WHO NEED. And, the onus is on us to move the needle up on congressional action that ensures gender equity before our gains in the workplace are reset to decades ago. We must become policy architects and makers and design a fair and family friendly social infrastructure with robust and flexible systems that fill the gaps in workplace rules, ensure affordable and convenient child care, support paid family and medical leave, and embrace and protect full gender equity. We must be our own liberators and heroes. Yes, we are adding to our to-do list, to our already overwhelmed and unrelenting schedules, but the costs of doing otherwise are too great. As we lift up and care for one another, we set the example for what it means to be truly equal, and we lift the whole world.


REFERENCES:


  1. More Than 33 Million Americans Have Filed for Unemployment During Coronavirus Pandemic”; Andrew Soergel, Senior Writer, Economics; May 7, 2020; US News & World Report

  2. “How COVID 19 Sent Women’s Workforce Progress Backwards, Julie Kashen, Sarah Jane Glynn, Amanda Novello; Center for American Progress; October 30, 2020

  3. “Nearly 2.2 million women left the workforce between February and October, according to new analysis,” Courtney Connley, Make It, CNBC, Tues, Nov 10, 2020; https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/10/nearly-2point2-million-women-left-workforce-between-february-and-october.html

  4. “How COVID 19 Sent Women’s Workforce Progress Backwards, Julie Kashen, Sarah Jane Glynn, Amanda Novello; Center for American Progress; October 30, 2020

  5. IBID

  6. IBID

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