Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Tammy Gaibrois takes a look the disruptions that the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic created for women in the workplace. She breaks down the facts and offers insight into the issue from her personal perspective. This is her third story in our graduate voices series.
The pandemic has caused havoc on normalcy worldwide. One of the biggest problems that has emerged affects half of the population: Women are leaving the workforce, a majority of whom are working mothers. In the United States alone, 860,000 women have left the workforce between August and September 2020, when school started, compared to 216,000 men.
These women are stepping up to deal with the childcare crisis that has also arisen, as day cares for preschool children close due to being unable to meet CDC guidelines and failing to reduce the risks of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Most grade level schools are taught remotely this year, which requires an adult to be home. Remote schooling can be challenging to adjust to for younger students and those who have special needs. When the combination of remote work and remote school do not work, careers are put on a halt. Often the woman’s career is more at risk because of existing wage discrepancy and the traditional gender roles in the average heterosexual family.
This will cause a long-term impact on the workforce, the careers of the unemployed and their families. In the early stage of the recession, many job losses were temporary layoffs or furloughs. Now, almost four million of those job losses are permanent. There are many consequences that include gap in work experience for the unemployed, which will affect their likelihood of getting hired and the workforce will lack diversity because women, minorities and lower-income employees are most affected by this type of unemployment.
“The pandemic is creating an opportunity to reconstruct the work culture. It has already started with increasing remote work”.
While I personally chose to leave the workforce pre-COVID-19, voluntarily, to temporary to raise my children, I am re-entering the workforce along with a huge group of career-oriented mothers who are facing the same challenges. Before the pandemic, I was hopeful that the white-collar workforce was adjusting to accommodate working parents. The work benefits my husband and I personally enjoy allowed us to create a family and the ability to succeed at our second full-time jobs as a parent. I had the flexibility to work at home or change my hours when the unpredictable happened. I felt supported by management. I was less distracted and more motivated to achieve my career goals. I found balance and a lot of joy from these benefits, which gave me motivation to do even more. This is the trend I noticed from larger companies. However, the pandemic has presented new challenges and revealed existing limitations for all employees.
An interest for working parents is universal access to affordable childcare, either through the employer or government subsidies. From my personal experience, the cost of adequate daycare in a major metropolitan area is equivalent to in-state public college tuition, which is not proportional for a middle-class family. Access to this type of care will allow lower- and middle-class working mothers a better chance to continue their careers with less financial concerns. Another solution is pay transparency within companies to encourage wage equality.
Parents, like myself, who choose to take a temporary break, will benefit from a cultural reform of how we perceive parents in the workplace and normalize work experience gaps. Traditionally, it is a limitation to be a working mom because it is perceived as a distraction, but there are many parenting skills that translate into the professional world, such as multitasking, stress management, poise in conflict resolution and time management.
“I believe work benefits need to be reprioritized as gender roles are changing, people are choosing to be child-free and increased career pressures are poorly affecting mental health”.
Normalizing career gaps for all employees, including people without children, is very constructive for professional growth. Taking sabbaticals is healthy for employees and it is a small investment that yields a big return for employers. When the workforce recognizes and encourages recreation and personal fulfillment outside the office, employees have opportunities to become well-rounded established leaders. I am seeing this trend in management and it gives me much hope for the future of personal development and mental health.
I believe work benefits need to be reprioritized as gender roles are changing, people are choosing to be child-free and increased career pressures are poorly affecting mental health. The pandemic is creating an opportunity to reconstruct the work culture. It has already started with increasing remote work. There is great potential for the workplace, after the recovery from this pandemic, if we prioritize our employees above the bottom line. Work should provide more opportunities, options and benefits rather than just a paycheck.
My home state of Colorado passed the Paid Family and Medical Leave Initiative (PFML) this election that will go in effect in 2023. This will contribute to a better home and work balance for all employees. By having this issue on the ballot shows us that work culture reform is progressing.
Representation in our leadership matters. The 2020 election has increased the representation of women and mothers in the U.S. congress, making up 25.2% of the 117th Congress in 2021. Kalama Harris as the first female, Black and South Asian American vice president is a historic milestone for women and minority representation in U.S. politics. Not only will this bring more diverse perspectives to politics, but it will also encourage future generations of women to achieve gender balance in our government.
“With higher education and our children’s future at stake, working mothers have the means and the motives to adequately improve the workforce so that our daughters have equal opportunities, benefits and treatment as our sons”.
There are infinite studies, surveys and data available on gender inequality but there is no quantitative statistic on the realities of working moms across the world. There are new battles for every generation of parents. My parents are immigrants to the United States. I saw first-hand the sacrifice of personal fulfillment and lifelong investment they made so that I could have more. Now as a parent myself, we are reforming the next level of obstacles for this generation of children. For the first time in history, more women have a bachelor degree or higher than men. With higher education and our children’s future at stake, working mothers have the means and the motives to adequately improve the workforce so that our daughters have equal opportunities, benefits and treatment as our sons.
Policies and laws can only do so much. At the end of the day, progress is based on individual resiliency and creative problem-solving. Working moms do that best. Have you ever done tedious engineering calculations, while managing a multi-project workload, while scheduling play dates with five other busy moms, while craving lamb vindaloo from pregnancy hormones (where can I get that at 9am?), while having a matching outfit with no baby stains and neat hair, while still being productive and acceptably coherent with a sense of humor intact, while writing run-on sentences? Working moms overcome societal double standards daily to bridge our success to the next generations.
Tammy Gaibrois is a graduate of John R. Lewis High School, in Springfield, Virginia, U.S. She continued her education at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. She is now taking a sabbatical from her career as a landscape architect to raise her two children in Denver, Colorado. She is a supporter of independent artists, writers and public policy advocates. She loves to follow new creatives and organizations. You can connect with her on Instagram here.
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