Over the last century, women have fought hard to gain their footing in the workplace. Although the work is far from finished, gender equality at work is better than ever. However, many experts fear that COVID-19 could damage this progress and set women back. The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women’s careers, and that’s expected to continue.
How do we move through this pandemic without losing the progress we’ve made in the workplace? It will take all of us to successfully fight gender inequality in the workplace over the next several years. Here are a few ways you can do your part.
Avoid Resume Gaps
More women have lost or quit their jobs due to COVID-19 than men. Much of this boils down to childcare. With schools and daycares shut down, one parent has to work less — or not at all — to keep kids safe and on track. In most families, mothers take this burden. There are several reasons for this. First, gender pay disparities mean that mothers often make less than fathers, so losing their income is less of a blow. Second, the stereotype that women are better caretakers is still very much alive in our culture. Women are expected to become stay-at-home parents when the cards are down; men are not.
If you're in this boat, you need to think about how to protect your career through this time. Although taking time off work might be the best choice for your family, it can have a devastating effect on your resume. Career breaks for stay-at-home parenting are thought to be one of the leading causes of the gender wage gap. Time dedicated to child care is time mothers can’t get back, and it lowers their wage and career prospects for the rest of their lives.
However, you can mitigate this effect by taking on part-time or freelance work. Contract work, in particular, allows you to keep your resume current on a flexible schedule. Since you define your own hours and workload, you can work during odd hours and still knock out household tasks. There are tons of freelance opportunities out there, from programming to customer service. It can also be a good foundation for starting your own business, so find a way to keep working on your own terms.
Advocate in the Workplace
If you are still working, resolve to be a voice in the fight against gender inequality at work. Encourage your office to allow flexible schedules and work-from-home opportunities where possible so parents can stay on board. If you have a direct report who has to take time off for childcare, try to find ways to offer them contract work while they’re gone. These measures can go a long way toward keeping women’s careers on track during the pandemic.
Once the pandemic has passed, fight for fair hiring practices. If you’re in charge of hiring, try to be understanding about resume gaps, especially if the candidate self-discloses that they took time off to take on childcare. Remember, however, that you cannot ask if someone has kids in the job application process, even if you’re well-meaning.
Step Up for Your Partner
Partners need to step up right now, too. If you are the one with a flexible career that can suit childcare during the day, see if you can switch your hours up so your partner doesn’t have to lose her job. If she’s finding ways to freelance or work part-time, work on making sure you’re doing your fair share at home so she can juggle everything. Partners can make a huge difference in women’s careers just by being there and sharing the load.
The long-term ramifications of COVID-19 are yet to be seen. However, it’s almost certain that women’s careers will take a hit. We can all work together to make that hit as gentle as possible and help the workplace get back on track.
Photo Credit: Unsplash