Working in the Pandemic: What’s Changed One Year Later

illustration of a woman holding a baby and working

It’s been a long year (and some change), to put it lightly, but with the rapid distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, we are starting to see the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. Throughout 2020 we were constantly told that we would have to adjust to a “new normal,” but for a lot of moms who work outside the home, this new normal was unsustainable. 

The number of women who left the workforce as a result of these new demands greatly outweighed that of men. Of the women who didn’t leave their jobs, many have worked themselves to the point of total burnout trying to manage their jobs alongside the demands of childcare/virtual schooling. 

Suffice to say, this pandemic did not go easy on us. 

Aside from the obvious, what else has changed for women in the workforce over the last year? In June of 2020, about three months into the pandemic, The Mom Project sent out a survey to around 2,000 working professionals to gather information on their work-lives since the start of COVID-19. In March of 2021, a follow-up survey was sent out to get updated data from participants. These surveys allowed The Mom Project to put together a report that details how full-time working moms have fared over the last year

Report findings

It’s not exactly a surprise to find out that the pandemic’s impact on women, and moms in particular, continued in the months between the two surveys. Here are some of the results.

Effects on the gender pay gap

In June of 2020, 39% of working moms reported feeling underpaid in their positions, and that number jumped up to 44% in the 2021 follow-up survey. Similarly, one-third of working moms say that they don’t feel like they are getting paid what they are worth to their organization. 

one-third of working moms say that they don’t feel like they are getting paid what they are worth to their organization

So many moms have been basically working two jobs over the last year (between work and managing childcare and/or virtual school), and if they’ve continued to deliver quality work to their employer throughout it all without any kind of recognition (whether it’s monetary or in another meaningful form), then it makes sense that they’d feel undervalued.  

Workload and career progression 

When everything shut down in March of 2020, most employers were quick to adapt and were willing to give parents some grace because they understood the new demands put on them. However, as the pandemic went on, a lot of parents’ workloads slowly crept back to normal even though many schools and childcare centers remained closed. This is likely the reason why moms reported their workload as 16% less manageable in March of 2021 than they did in June of 2020. 

moms reported their workload as 16% less manageable in March of 2021 than they did in June of 2020

Additionally, because of the growing demands at home, a lot of moms had to scale back at work by no longer taking on extra projects/initiatives that would overflow their already-too-full plate. After a year of this, more than half of the moms The Mom Project surveyed said they feel like they don’t have opportunities to advance their careers as a result. This is a particularly interesting data point because this response is 51% more negative than how working dads feel about their options for career advancement at this point in the pandemic. 

Workplace flexibility 

Flex options at work have been a priority for moms long before the pandemic started. In fact, a 2019 study by The Mom Project found that 88% of moms rank flexibility as important in a job as the salary, with 42% ranking flexibility above salary altogether. 

88% of moms rank flexibility as important in a job as the salary

In the March 2021 survey, a large majority of moms still say their ideal work situation would be a hybrid schedule. This means they’d like the flexibility to work both remotely and in the office with flex hours, and the most desired weekly work schedule would include two days on-site and three days at home. 

So, if anything good came from this pandemic for working moms, it’s the move to more remote work. Between June of 2020 and March of 2021, there has been a 20% increase in the number of moms who report being able to work from home. This is also great news for employers because the ability to work from home combined with increased flex-time options has resulted in women (moms, especially) being more satisfied, producing higher quality work, and increased retention. 

Broader picture (the good news!)

As previously mentioned, the survey results aren’t exactly surprising, because it’s been pretty clear how hard this past year has been on working moms. That being said, not only did we all do our part to help stop the spread of this horrible virus but our struggle has helped shed some light on the life of many working moms today, which has sparked some remarkable change. 

Media narrative

It wasn’t a secret, pre-pandemic, that being a full-time working mom is incredibly difficult, but there seems to be a new appreciation for it now. The closures of schools and childcare facilities left a lot of families in a lurch and it didn’t take long before it became clear whose shoulders were forced to carry the bulk of the burden. Women dropped out of the workforce at concerning rates, which highlighted the fact that even though we (and male partners) have come a long way, we still have a bit of work to do in terms of equality. 

This has been widely reported on over the last year, but what’s important to notice is that it continues to be covered. We live in the 24-hour news cycle era where an event that might deserve a weeks-worth of attention is quickly pushed aside because some scandal has been exposed. Still, the story of the pandemic’s impact on working moms hasn’t gone away, which is (hopefully) a sign that change is inevitable. 

Here are some recent stories/reports on this topic from Harvard Business Review, the Pew Research Center, Fortune, CNBC, Forbes, and Time.  

Push for policy change

More good news: all of this data and media coverage has made its way to our state and federal representatives. Now that the immediate crisis of COVID-19 is at a simmer instead of boiling over, elected officials have the opportunity to evaluate and address the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on moms and families. 

Some actions that have already taken place:

👉 Families under a certain income threshold were given some relief through the revised 2021 child tax credit (more information here)

👉 Increased funding for public schools so they can safely reopen in the wake of COVID-19 (more information here)

👉 Child care relief to allow centers to reopen after the impact of COVID-19 (more information here)

👉 Mandatory paid leave for families affected by the virus, including loss of childcare (more information here)

👉 100% paid COBRA health insurance coverage through September of 2021 for employees who have been laid off (more information here)

Additionally, the “American Families Plan” is currently being drafted and reportedly includes policies for paid family leave, universal pre-k,  additional child care and public education funding, and an extension of the child tax credit. There will inevitably be some changes to this proposal, but the fact of the matter is that families are getting some much-needed attention as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. 

The year ahead

There’s no telling what lies ahead of us in 2021 and 2022 (and I couldn’t begin to try to guess after the shock that was 2020), but hopefully, as schools across the country reopen and life settles into a new, new-normal, working moms will start to feel a little lighter. When that happens, be sure to take a deep breath and congratulate yourself for all that you accomplished over the last year. You carried your family through this, and that is no small achievement.

Ashley Ziegler is a full-time writer with a passion for telling stories through the lens of motherhood to help fellow moms feel seen and understood (especially the ones who, like her, are totally winging it).

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