Yes, we can! (but Covid -19 may be a huge hurdle.)
August is here and it has been roughly 5 months since the Covid-19 Crisis came to the United States and turned the world upside down. Slowly, we have settled into a new reality of sorts. A reality that has affected all aspects of our lives regardless of race, gender, creed and more. Here in the U.S. we are slowly reopening the economy and, as America gets back to business, it is women that are finding themselves left behind. The strides and advancements made by women in the workforce are slowly being eroded. We must act swiftly and decisively to bring this situation to light.
We were so close…
We will forever look at the world in terms of BC (Before Covid) and AC (After Covid). Before March 13, 2020, the U.S. Economy was the most robust in had ever been and unemployment was at an all-time low. Women were making great strides in finally closing the gender inequality gap that had become a staple of the American workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that women had overtaken men as the majority of the overall workforce. Women were seeing themselves finally taking their seats in the C-suite of Fortune 500 companies and, on average, being paid 20% less then male counterparts. Yes, I sat excited to be paid 20 cents less on the dollar because we were finally seeing the gap start to narrow. Additionally, women were graduating college in greater numbers than male students and more and more were seeking post graduate degrees. The ME TOO and TIMES UP movement had shown a spotlight on the abuse and discrimination that women faced in the workplace. Lastly, in 2018, we elected the greatest number of women to Congress. Yes, we were so close and then the economy came to a crashing halt and fell off the cliff.
One giant step back for women…
So, here we are today, staring the new reality in the face and realizing that there is no infrastructure or adequate response to deal with the havoc that this virus has inflicted on women. In the immediate call to blunt the curve of viral spread, we pulled up our bootstraps and closed virtually all businesses and schools. Yet, in the furlough and laying off many, some were blessed to be able to transition to working from home. Women, the default primary caretaker of children, were now balancing careers and home schooling their children. Initially, there was the novelty of small children crashing the all-important Zoom call and, yes, we all developed mad respect for teachers. Yet, some of us started to question the division of labor within our household and the need for our partners to step up and take a more active role.
The months dragged on and as the summer comes to end, we find the economy slowly reopening. Government officials have been making important decisions about schools and the safety of our children and their teachers. Nowhere in these conversations have we spoken about women and how they are to return their jobs. The media is blind to women being asked to come back to their offices and having to resign because they have no childcare. Women are faced with making extremely difficult decisions about their careers, while having almost zero support from employers or federal law. In the early months of the pandemic, we exhausted benefits extended to us under the Cares Act and The Family Leave Act. Now, we are left with employers who are not obligated to help their female employees accommodate for the lack of childcare. We are left with bosses who frown on workers who have small children in the background of their Zoom calls. Our commitment to working is called into questions and, slowly, we are losing our advancement up on the corporate ladder.
I implore all of us to begin to have the hard conversation about women’s rights and childcare in our country. Women should have comprehensive legislation that protects them and that affords them the ability to advance in the workforce without having to fear caring for a sick child or relative. We need to begin having the uncomfortable conversation about women and gender roles within our households, as well as the perception that society that has placed on the men that step up to help their female partners achieve their dreams. The fact is that Yes We Can! but we don’t need anything making harder for us.