Gender Discourse,  Social Issues,  Work and labor

COVID-19 Threatens Gender Equality and Work-Life Balance for Working Mothers

It is projected that an increase in women’s labor force participation would boost the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 13 trillion in 2030. – Mckinsey

Backstory: When the pandemic earlier began to ravage the world, I asked in one of my blog stories, should we take a feminist analysis of the pandemic serious? In my response, I highlighted some issues that needed to be addressed; these included family care burden and domestic violence.

Seven months after this story, various articles from the American news media analyze how the family care burden threatens gender equality in homes and organizations. By extension, these articles analyze how the family care burden and the imbalance with shared responsibility in dual-earner families affect women’s labor force participation. Also, as an emerging scholar of work-life balance studies, I will say that the pandemic impacts women’s access to work-life balance.

Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, the gender gap between males and females in the labor market was gradually closing up. However, with the pandemic a decline became inevitable. This was due to the transition to telecommuting (work-from-home) and the shutdown of schools following the lockdown policy stipulated by various national presidents to control the rapid spread of the virus. Academic researchers highlighted that these factors made parenting roles take a new turn. For instance, in dual-earner families, the role burden became enormous (Collins, Landivar, Ruppanner, & Scarborough, 2020). Parents became teachers, caregivers, as well as being employees in their homes since the daycare centers, schools, and workplaces were shut down. Of which, navigating these different roles within the confines of a single domain led to more challenges for parents.

Furthermore, several studies indicated that this arrangement (work-from-home) affected more women than men. For instance, in the United States, mothers experienced a reduction in work hours by 4.5 times more than fathers in a week, between February and April (Collins et. al 2020, 3); also in the US men spent 4.7 hours on child care and homeschooling while women spent 6.1 hours (DJankov, 2020). In South Africa,  Perry and Gordon (2020, 7) write that “8 out of every 10 employed South African women with a partner reported that they either always or usually prepared the household meals, compared to less than 1 in 10 employed men.” These instances reveal that the cost of unpaid labor takes a toll on women’s productivity in their workplace since they bear a larger share of the childcare and family care in the home.

Therefore, as the larger share of childcare is being bored by mothers, access to work-life balance became impossible for them. This is a case of when everything happens in the home, work-family conflict becomes unarguable. Scholarships before Covid-19 discuss that work-life leaned towards analyzing the interference of work roles on family life, social life, and leisure life (Guest, 2012). But with COVID-19, it is somewhat acceptable to say that the construct of work-life balance changed, as family burden interfered with working mothers’ productivity in the workplace (Minello, Martucci, & Manzo 2020). This then created a ”hybrid category” Katsabian (2020) calls the home-office and allowed for work-family conflict (a situation where the pressures that come from the work and family domains cause the incompatibility of role pressures where participation in one role is more difficult because of the participation in another role.) (Greenhaus and Foley, 2007). The challenges of this ”hybrid category” then trigger why many mothers find themselves deciding whether to stay in their jobs or resign their jobs to manage their homes, which of course, is at a higher rate for women than men (Bowman, 2020). (Below is a graphical description of the decline in women’s labor force participation in the pandemic as drawn from McKinsey 2020 research.)

COVID-19 Negatively Impacts Women’s Economic Power

Many women now have their economic power negatively impacted. According to Mckinsey, women account for 39% of the global labor force, and in the pandemic, they account for over 54% of job losses. For example, in the United States as of September about 865, 000 women have had to opt-out of their jobs because they need to attend to childcare and family care duties (Gogoi 2020). In India, women’s labor force participation also experienced a decline in the pandemic (Beniwal, 2020). This was because most informal jobs closed out due to the pandemic. It is important to also note that the percentage of female workers in the informal labor sector is higher than that of male workers (Bonnet, Vanek, and Chen 2019). Also, women represent the larger population of employees in the service sector globally (ILO 2016). Therefore, the large participation of women in the informal labor sector and service sector accounts for the reason women are globally impacted by any challenge in the hospitality sector, aviation sector, and food service sector and of which, this is the case in the COVID-19 era. Also, due to the incompatibility of work and family demands, some women willingly pull out of their jobs (Aviv 2020). As such, women’s loss of jobs in the pandemic reflects the impact of the pandemic on gender parity. Meanwhile, Mckinsey (2020) report projects that an increase in women’s labor force participation would boost the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 13 trillion in 2030.

The Need for Studies on the Impacts of COVID-19 on Women’s Access to Gender Equality in Developing Nations

The narratives of the impacts of COVID-19 on gender equality and work-life balance in nations such as Nigeria is not solidly covered in this discourse. This is because there are fewer studies available as of the time of writing this blog story. Also, certain provisions that many developed nations have access to cannot be accessed in many developing nations. Katsabian (2020) mentioned that in developing nations not all organizations went virtual like it was in developed nations. Brussevich, Dabla-Norris, and Khalid (2020) also argue that more than half of the households in developing nations do not have access to a computer in their homes. Also, Okocha (2020) claims that the lack of internet infrastructure and electricity impacted academic delivery in Nigeria, as a result, education was on standstill for the three months of lockdown in Nigeria. Okocha further states that not everyone has access to basic needs such as the internet and electricity supply in Nigeria; which are essential for virtual work and education. As such, working from home becomes difficult for most working mothers with children even though schools were shut down. This then points out the need for an inquiry into how families were able to manage and cater to children’s education and social engagement despite the lockdown if most parents were physically at their workplaces. Similarly, across the globe, more studies should be done on how essential working parents managed their work and family life in the pandemic.

Overall, national governments and organizations should be more concerned about implementing social welfare policies that make the childcare burden lessened for mothers and parents, and that makes it easy for them to access work-life balance. In effect, this could help address the growing constraints in the achievement of gender parity in families and labor force representation globally.

Now, let’s bring it forward: a feminist analysis of COVID-19 during and after the pandemic should be a priority for many nations. Especially, in developing nations where the gender gap and its economic impact during the pandemic are under-analyzed. An awakening of developing nations researchers and academics could help to turn the tide in women’s participation in the labor markets.

Sources

Aviv, S. (2020, October 4). “Working mothers on the edge.” CBS. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/working-mothers-on-the-edge/

Beniwal, V. (2020, June 25). “The Virus Has Made India’s Devastating Gender Gap Even Worse.” Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2020-06-25/india-coronavirus-lockdown-hits-women-hard-worsening-gender-gap    

Bonnet, F., Vanek, J., and Chen, M. (2019). “Women and men in the informal economy: A statistical brief.” Women in Informal Employment:
Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO). https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_protect/—protrav/—travail/documents/publication/wcms_711798.pdf

Bowman, E. (2020, October 1). Sheryl Sandberg: Companies Need To ‘Lean In’ As Pandemic Threatens Women’s Progress. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2020/10/01/919228757/sheryl-sandberg-companies-need-to-lean-in-as-pandemic-threatens-women-s-progress#:~:text=Live%20Sessions-,Sheryl%20Sandberg%3A%20Companies%20Need%20To%20’Lean%20In’%20As%20Pandemic,should%20terrify%20all%20of%20us.%22 

Brussevich, M., Dabla-Norris, E., & Khalid, S. (July 7, 2020). “Teleworking is not working for the poor, the young, and the women.” IMF Blog. https://blogs.imf.org/2020/07/07/teleworking-is-not-working-for-the-poor-the-young-and-the-women/#.XwbwGfdPG0k.twitter

Collins, C., Christin Landivar, L., Ruppanner, L., & Scarborough, W. (2020). “COVID-19 and the gender gap in work hours.” Gender, Work, and Organizations, 1-20. DOI: 10.1111/gwao.12506

Danquah, M., Schotte, S., Sen K. (2020) “COVID‑19 and employment: insights from the sub-Saharan African experience.” Indian Society of Labour Economics 63, (1): S23-S30. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41027-020-00251-4

Djankov, S. (2020). “COVID-19 hurt women’s employment the hardest.” The London School of Economics and Political Science. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2020/11/02/covid-19-hurt-womens-employment-the-hardest/

Gogoi, P. (2020, October 28). “Stuck-at-home moms: the pandemic’s devastating toll on women.” NPR. https://www.npr.org/2020/10/28/928253674/stuck-at-home-moms-the-pandemics-devastating-toll-on-women

Greenhaus, J.H., & Foley, S. (2007). “The intersection of work and family lives.” Researchgate. 131-151. DOI: 10.4135/9781412976107.n8

Guest, D. E. (2002). Perspectives on the study of work-life balance. Social Science Information, 41(2), 255–279. https://doi.org/10.1177/053901840204100200

International Labour Organization. (2016). Women at work: Trends 2016. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_457317.pdf

Katsabian, T. The Telework Virus: How the COVID-19 Pandemic has affected telework and exposed its implications for privacy and equality (September 1, 2020): 1-57. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3684702

Madgavkar, A., White, O., Krishnan, M., Mahajan, D., & Azcue, X. (2020). “COVID-19 and gender equality: countering the regressive effects.” Mckinsey. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/covid-19-and-gender-equality-countering-the-regressive-effects

Minello, A., Martucci, S.,& Manzo, L.K.C. (2020).’The pandemic and the academic mothers: present hardships and future perspectives.” European Societies, 1-14. DOI: 10.1080/14616696.2020.1809690

Okocha, S. (2020, April 9). “Poor internet brings academic work to a virtual standstill.” University World News: African Edition. https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20200408203452445

Katsabian, T. (2020). The Telework Virus: How the COVID-19 Pandemic has affected telework and exposed its implications for privacy and equality. SSRN.  (September 1, 2020): 1-57. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3684702

Parry, B., &  Gordon, E. (2020). “The shadow pandemic: Inequitable gendered impacts of COVID‐19 in South Africa.” Gender, Work, and Organizations, 1-12.  DOI: doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12565

Taub, A. (2020, September 26). “Pandemic Will ‘Take Our Women 10 Years Back’ in the Workplace.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/26/world/covid-women-childcare-equality.html 

 

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Malte Mueller/fStop/Getty Images Copied from NPR

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