How COVID-19 Affects Women in the Workplace

Mother and two kids

Reporting on women in the workplace, in general, is often a story in and of itself, when you think of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, unequal pay, maternity leave issues, and the list goes on. In these pandemic times, there’s even more cause for alarm.

Although much of corporate America is working remotely due to the coronavirus, this new normal of working from home while managing kids has been a particular strain on working women.

A new report from McKinsey & Company, in partnership with Lean, puts it best. “Women in particular have been negatively impacted. Women—especially women of color—are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis,1 stalling their careers and jeopardizing their financial security. The pandemic has intensified challenges that women already faced. Working mothers have always worked a “double shift”—a full day of work, followed by hours spent caring for children and doing household labor.”

The report continues, “Now the supports that made this possible—including school and childcare—have been upended. Meanwhile, Black women already faced more barriers to advancement than most other employees.2 Today they’re also coping with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community. And the emotional toll of repeated instances of racial violence falls heavily on their shoulders.”

Here, we dive deeper into the topic with Stephanie LeBlanc Godfrey, global head of inclusion for women of color at Google. A self described “tribe builder” in her role as a wife and working mother, LeBlanc Godfrey says her mission is to “facilitate spaces that empower women through authentic connection and inspire them to boldly unleash the greatness within.” Tell me a bit about your role.

Stephanie LeBlanc Godfrey: I create spaces for women of color to experience community and have authentic experiences where it does not naturally occur within the corporate world; I influence and partner with business units, managers and development teams to infuse their programs, policies, and processes with an inclusion lens to avoid negatively impacting the very communities they are trying to serve; and I support parent and caregiver communities as they navigate COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Logistically speaking, what are some of the ways in which working parents are being affected by balancing their careers and their families remotely during COVID-19?

SLG: Working parents have lost access, literally overnight, to the resources they depended on to be able to work full time and manage their households effectively! On top of a full workload, they’re managing the physical and hour-to-hour needs of the little humans in their household.

Self-care is always a hot topic for working parents on a clear and sunny day. Now, there’s a need for it, but the lack of time and access to those outlets and restorative practices are negatively and rapidly impacting their mental and physical health. Does it seem that women experience the brunt of it more so than their male counterparts? If so, why?

SLG: Of course!! Pre-pandemic, the role of caregiving fell predominantly on women. In our current state, women still bear the brunt of the caregiver role, whether in the form of being a frontline healthcare worker or providing care for family members.

Further, the pandemic has highlighted staggering figures; according to a survey by Boston Consulting Group, women spend an additional 27 hours allocated to education, household chores, and keeping children entertained and an extra 15 hours on domestic labor compared to men. It’s an additional unpaid job on top of a full time job and there are little to no levers to alleviate the pressure coming from all sides. For women who are choosing to leave the workforce as a result of the stresses of the pandemic, what can companies do to retain them?

SLG: Immediately, companies should, if they haven’t already, support and model the use of flexible work schedules and time off for caregivers. Second and most importantly, they should reassess and communicate revised expectations. It’s not business as usual; for leaders to say they support their employees during this time but not adjust business priorities is ruthless. It has a direct correlation on women, parents and caregivers who end up being forced out of the workforce.

Longer term, they need to proactively create a culture where said flexible schedules and time off for caregivers will not come with a price tag of fear of retaliation or a detrimental setback to their career trajectory. A company’s policies, programs and processes need to reflect a psychologically safe environment for its employees to easily connect with support and benefits when they are in moments of crisis.