Help Wanted: Addressing the Pandemic's Impact on Women

Posted by: 
Dan Jolivet
A woman on her computer with her young children

Co-authored with Kimberly Solis, Behavioral Health Case Manager, Medical and Return to Work Services

The pandemic has turned most lives and workplaces upside down. But for women, the challenges have been extreme — and they’re not over yet. Women, much more than men, are having to figure out how to manage the demands of work while faced with many ever-present challenges.1

Along with juggling child care and online schooling, women are also trying to support their children’s mental and emotional needs during this unprecedented time. Women — mothers in particular — have to be playmates, spouses/partners, moms, caregivers and workers on a 24/7 basis.

Another ongoing challenge that’s tougher now? Caring for elder loved ones — without risking their health and lives.

It’s all piled up to take a huge psychological toll on women. Amplifying the negative impact of the pandemic are factors such as race, special needs children, and being a single mother.

Women’s Work? 24/7 on the Job and at Home

A year into the pandemic, the impact on women’s careers, personal lives and behavioral health is well documented. Here’s a quick overview of the issues they’re struggling with:

  • Magnified gender and racial inequality in the workplace — women of color are more adversely affected.2
  • Increased caregiver responsibilities — 44% of women reported being the only one in the household providing care in 2020 — compared to just 14% of men.3
  • Housework responsibilities — mothers are more than three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for most of the housework and caregiving during the pandemic.1
  • Managing children in remote school while working from home.1
  • Lack of time and energy for self-care.
  • Increased behavioral health conditions — stress, burnout, depression, anxiety.4
  • Surging domestic violence — one in three white women report having experienced domestic violence during the pandemic.5 And rates of abuse increased to 50% and higher for those marginalized by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship status and cognitive physical ability.5

Women also take care of both the cognitive and emotional work in their families.6 More than men, women are managing household schedules, logistics, appointments and more. Women may be shouldering a bigger emotional load than men, too.7 For example, helping children with social distancing anxieties, absorbing others’ emotions and resolving conflicts.

Dismissed, Disconnected, Dropping Out

Mothers have often had to make hard choices about whether to keep working. Or quit to focus on caring for their children. As many as 5.4 million had this choice made for them through the loss of their jobs.8 Black, Hispanic and single moms have been hit the hardest economically.1

Disconnection and isolation are big factors too. Since the pandemic began, women are 48% more likely than men to feel disconnected from coworkers. And 100% more likely to feel disconnected from their managers.9

These issues have a negative impact on workplaces, too, now and in the years ahead. Employers are at risk of losing even more women — and women leaders:

  • One in four women are considering downsizing their careers or leaving the workforce because of COVID-19.1
    • Senior-level women are 1.5 times more likely than senior-level men to think about downshifting or leaving the workforce.1
    • Almost three in four cite burnout as a main reason.1
  • The damage to organizations, women’s careers and gender equality will linger for years.1

Life and Work Aren’t Normal Yet

For many people, baseline levels of anxiety have become flooded and remain at high alert. Our 2020 Behavioral Health Impact Update showed that almost half of workers are dealing with mental health issues.

The coping strategies women used in the past may not be available to the same degree as before the pandemic. Normal activities are returning slowly — such as meeting a friend for coffee, dining out, going to the gym and traveling. But as the pandemic lingers, people may still feel weighed down by a pervasive leaded blanket on top of their day-to-day stressors.

Being in flight-or-fight mode for much of the year left little time to grieve or to mourn so many rapid changes and losses. Let alone take time for adequate self-care.

And as remote work continues or becomes the norm, women and men are also missing out on the psychological value of going to their workplaces. There’s less chance to engage with colleagues and friends. Plus, the lack of a temporary physical separation from the home often leads to a lack of work/life boundaries.

5 Steps Employers Can Take Now

Employers can take active steps to support women, as well as all employees, and keep valued talent. Here are five key things to introduce or ramp up:

1. Strengthen and rebuild connections, including:

  • Having more frequent check-ins.
  • Sharing and encouraging more personal updates during check-ins.9
  • Asking people how they’re doing — and making it safe to talk about feelings.9
  • Offering unstructured time together — with virtual video coffee chats, etc.9

2. Embrace flexibility on an ongoing basis:

  • Normalize flexibility — Make sure it’s not only “working mothers” who are called out for needing flexibility.2
  • Recognize that all employees can benefit from more flexible schedules.2

3. Normalize self-care:

  • Be sure the flexible schedule offered doesn’t turn into regularly working into the late hours of the night.
  • Let employees know that self-care — including mental well-being — is important and supported.
  • Encourage employees to take advantage of wellness benefits — such as meditation or exercise classes that may be available to them.

4. Reduce stigma around behavioral health:

  • Remind employees about employee assistance programs and other resources.
  • Train managers as needed to recognize and support employees who are struggling.

5. Make work more sustainable:2

  • Re-evaluate productivity and performance expectations.
  • Communicate early, openly and often.

Resources, Tips and Tools

The challenges caused by COVID-19 placed working women, especially mothers, in untenable situations. Employers have a special and important role to play to support women, show them they’re valued, and retain and attract their talents.

Along with the steps above, here are some great resources to review and share:

For employees — 4 tip sheets:

 


Tips for Communicating
With Kids During Crises

Tips for
Mental Well-Being

Tips for
Self-Care

Tips for Balancing
Remote Work, Child Care
and Remote Learning

 

For employers:

 

Interested in more tools and ideas? Visit our Behavioral Health Resource Center. Subscribe to our Workplace Possibilities Blog. And follow Dr. Dan Jolivet on Twitter — Ask Dr. Dan @ The Standard.