Women’s Careers Could Take Long-Term Hit From Coronavirus Pandemic

Connecting the Dots – #YesThisIsAnArtsStory Repost from The Wall Street Journal

Lauren Weber | 15 July 2020

Juggling work and family has never been easy. Under pandemic conditions, some women say it is proving impossible.

School closures and shelter-in-place orders have taken a toll on both men and women, who are coping with the pull of changed jobs and caregiving responsibilities.

For many, the disruption caused by the coronavirus has also shown how stubborn traditional gender roles and pay disparities can be—and how women’s careers often take a back seat when duty calls at home. Without schools or caregivers to rely on, some women are making the difficult choice to leave the workforce or cut back their hours, despite the prospect of long-term damage to their finances and careers.

More working parents could find themselves at a tipping point as districts decide whether to open schools this fall amid rising virus infections. New York City, the nation’s largest school district, is expected to return with a hybrid of remote and in-person learning, while children in Los Angeles and San Diego will start the school year online, decisions met with frustration from parents.

Opening economies without schooling and child care is a “recipe for a generational wipeout of mothers’ careers,” said Joan Williams, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law and the founder of the Center for WorkLife Law.

Employers and policy makers have been slow to grasp the scale of the crisis, she added, partly because in the U.S., caregiving is considered a private responsibility.

Florida State University administrators faced a backlash recently after telling employees they wouldn’t be allowed to care for children while working remotely. The school later said staff should work with supervisors to set schedules enabling them to meet family and work obligations.

“What are families supposed to do? Wave a magic wand and have these people disappear?” Ms. Williams asked. From April to June, calls to her center’s hotline, which offers legal help to people who think they are encountering discrimination because of their caregiver responsibilities, rose 250% compared with the same period last year.

Women are exiting the workforce at a slightly higher rate than men, federal data show. In March, 57.3% of U.S. women were either working or looking for work. That fell to 56.1% in June, a drop of 2.1%. Male labor-force participation dropped 1.9% in that period, from 68.5% to 67.2%. Those numbers may be fluid, given that households are still awaiting clarity on school and care situations.