Working moms continue to be overworked

The careers of working mothers continue to suffer during the COVID-19 pandemic as much of the burdens of family still fall on them.
Feature Working Parents Quitting Panel

While the COVID-19 pandemic required an adjustment from most workers, those shifts in how we work put an outsized level of stress on working mothers.

In September 2020, IB reported on the disconcerting trends facing working families and mothers, in particular:

  • Sixty-three percent of working mothers said they were primarily responsible for child care during the shutdown last spring, while 43% of working fathers reported the same thing;
  • Seventeen percent of working mothers quit their jobs during the pandemic — nearly one in five — versus just 10% of working fathers who reported the same thing.
  • Eighty percent of working mothers said they primarily handled the online learning responsibilities of their children but only 31% of working fathers reported the same thing;
  • Forty-three percent of working mothers said their employment situation remained unchanged during the pandemic, while 51% of working fathers reported the same thing; and
  • Thirty-seven percent of working mothers have left their job because it did not have work flexibility at some point in their career. Only 26% of working fathers said the same.

Now a survey from CommercialCafe sheds new light on the plight of working moms, many of whom are still trying to do it all for the sake of their families, even if their careers are suffering in the process:

  • Most of their time is used for housekeeping and child care (53%), followed by work and career development (46%). Very few said they spend their time on hobbies;
  • Forty-five percent of these moms said that they had been doing more housekeeping and child care since the pandemic began, and 64% have had little to no help in this respect;
  • The majority (61%) reported that the extra amount of housekeeping and child care impacted their work, with 17% having to work longer hours to make up for distractions during the day, and 13% saying they had to cut back on working hours; and
  • Nearly half of the moms agreed that flexible working hours once schools and kindergarten open would be of great help, followed by available and affordable child care (26%) and sharing domestic chores more equally (17%).

“Prior to the pandemic, women represented 46% of workers in the U.S.,” notes Diana Sabau, who writes for CommercialCafe’s blog. “Similarly, according to a study commissioned by American Express, women-owned businesses made up 42% of all businesses in 2019. However, throughout 2020, women’s positions within the labor market were undermined by the strong disruptive forces set in motion by COVID-19. In fact, estimations made by the McKinsey Global Institute showed that women’s jobs have been 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s during this period.”

While 93% of survey respondents said they maintained their jobs or businesses, approximately 7% reported that they were currently unemployed — a number that roughly matches the most recent national unemployment average for women in the U.S., says Sabau.

“Furthermore, of those who lost their jobs, 62% were either let go or had to permanently or temporarily suspend their business activities due to COVID-19 restrictions,” Sabau explains. “Another 38% decided to leave employment. Notably, while the bulk of these changes in employment occurred following the onset of the pandemic, approximately 30% of women we surveyed had already experienced these shifts before the first lockdowns were even put in place.”

Of the women who were unemployed at the time of the survey, conducted from Feb. 25–March 24, 73% reported the need to assume child care duties — combined with the limited options to pass along such duties during work hours — as the main reason for their current situation, Sabau reports. Meanwhile, insufficient pay prompted 17% of respondents to quit their jobs, with 22% stating that their previous income did not cover their basic household needs. Likewise, 76% of women who were currently out of work said that child care, supervision, and housekeeping were their most time-intensive duties. About 23% reported spending most of their time looking for new work opportunities or engaging in online training courses.

As far as their income, 30% said their current wage failed to cover their basic household needs. Indeed, the majority of respondents fell into lower-paid occupations in the health care, education, or retail sectors. What’s more, adds Sabau, a significant share of “pink-collar” jobs — such as home care providers and health care support workers — are associated with lower wages. This might explain why 45% of employed respondents said they were considering a career change. Among these, approximately two-thirds were interested in a better-paying job, while 18% would change course for a more flexible schedule and another 18% want to try a different line of work. And, while recent data shows that statewide unemployment numbers have improved significantly since mid-March 2020, the uneven recovery means that women who have access to more dynamic job markets are more likely to exercise their options in this regard.

Indeed, continuing to offer working parents flexibility in their work arrangements could make the difference when looking to retain employees that companies have invested countless hours and resources in training and developing. A new survey from FlexJobs of more than 2,100 people who worked remotely during the pandemic shows 58% of them would absolutely look for a new job if they weren’t allowed to continue working remotely in their current position. Further, 65% want to work remotely full-time post-pandemic, and another 33% prefer a hybrid work arrangement.

That lines up with the results of CommercialCafe’s study, which indicates one-third of respondents would like to continue working from home full-time. Along the same lines, 37% said that they thought a flexible schedule would provide the best balance for them — thereby allowing them time with their family, while also providing a professional setting to meet clients and socialize with other professionals. However, there’s also a significant minority (30%) that is eager to get back to the office and work exclusively from there.

“Granted, both mothers and fathers are affected by day cares, kindergartens, and schools being closed indefinitely or reopened intermittently,” says Sabau. “But there’s evidence that working mothers have taken on more of the resulting child care responsibilities. For example, 45% of respondents said they had been doing more housekeeping and child care work since the pandemic began. To that end, 53% of employed women reported that child care and housekeeping required most of their attention. Another 46% reported spending most of their time on work and career development.”

In recent years, there has been discussion within the public sphere about men — or partners of any gender — and the need for them to pitch in more when it comes to domestic duties, explains Sabau. However, CommercialCafe’s survey found that roughly 64% of women were still doing all or most of this type of work. Moreover, only 6% said that they felt like their partners had taken it upon themselves to handle child care and housekeeping, while 30% said that these tasks were split evenly between partners.

“Since people began working from home, there have been concerns about the effect that the various distractions in the home would have on worker productivity,” says Sabau. “Undoubtedly, there are those who have struggled to carry on as usual from home. This may include a range of issues: perching on the kitchen counter due to the lack of a designated space; maintaining a professional image during meetings with kids and pets running around in the background; or simply missing the daily office interactions. Plus, for mothers, these challenges are compounded by their increased domestic workloads.”

“Working from home is kind of rough in general,” notes Chelsea Roller, content marketing manager at Rank Fuse Digital Marketing in Overland Park, Kansas. “But for my family, it was a huge transition. My husband always works from home and he has an office. However, we don’t have space for two people in the office. Plus, he is on the phone most of the time anyway and there isn’t another dedicated space. I spent most days working from the couch or dining room table, which aren’t comfortable when you are trying to work.”

While 35% of women reported having no major distractions to their workflow as a result of increased household and child care duties, roughly one-third said they were having difficulty focusing throughout the day, Sabau reports. As an example, to make up for breaks they had to take during their work hours, 17% reported working longer hours, while 13% of respondents had to cut back on their number of work hours due to mounting household and child care duties.

“It impacted my job to a greater extent,” says Jill Sandy, landscape consultant at Constant Delights. “I considered leaving my duties several times because I wasn’t able to handle work and home at the same time. It sometimes stresses me out and I suffer from burnout because of housekeeping and child care burden during work from home.”

As far as what would make their life as working moms easier, 47% wished their employers would continue offering flexible work schedules even after schools and kindergartens were open, says Sabau. Likewise, 26% of respondents said that available and affordable child care options would greatly improve their experience as working mothers. Another 27% said they’d like to see a more equal distribution of household and child supervision tasks within their family.

Click here to sign up for the free IB Ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.