This week, the New York Times reports that the temporary setbacks to gender parity in the workplace are in danger of being close to permanent, leaving a whole generation of women behind their male cohort in the workplace. There has been a decade of fragile progress since the Great Recession, and in February, women represented a majority of civilian, non-farm workers employed in the country.
But that changed as soon as the lockdown hit, and also laid bare how tenuous such a milestone was with much of the job gains in the last decade in industries vulnerable to any crisis, let alone one of this magnitude.
As layoffs have continued, and the unemployment ranks swell toward 40 million, women have been affected disproportionately and mothers are affected doubly so as they were already more likely to handle the majority of childcare responsibilities and require them to make greater financial and time-related sacrifices.
One major hurdle, according to the Times, is that employers tend to favor hours logged at work, and as the economy starts reopening women are at a numerical disadvantage from short-term layoffs. However, longer-term issues also plague their chances as women are more likely to leave the workforce for a period of time for childcare, and without federal guarantees over employment and parental leave, women can find themselves permanently behind.
In addition to the financial issues, the pandemic has exacerbated problems for those who can work from home, but who also have children. Suddenly, women are performing all of the childcare duties that were previously performed by school, daycare or domestic workers while still working full-time.
One of the women, whose husband was still working as a delivery driver, was interviewed by the Times reported spending all day doing childcare, and only after children were in bed could she start her 8 hours of work as a digital librarian.
As we’ve argued before, without proper universal childcare policies in the United States, what is, thus far a temporary problem will turn into a full-blown crisis for women who want to remain in the workforce. We can ill-afford to go backwards after the gains women have fought hard for.