Has Working From Home Pushed Women Out of the Workforce?

by Aditi Hukerikar //

“Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.” -Ruth Bader Ginsberg

A study conducted by Mckinsey & Company and Lean In has revealed how working women in the United States have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This report found that women in the workforce have faced numerous challenges after the transition to working from home, and a startlingly high number of women may be considering leaving the workforce as a result of the pressures they feel from their new situations. 

Many companies were understandably ill-equipped for the quick transition to an online work environment, leaving employees scrambling to adjust to balancing online-work and their new home environments. Families have faced many challenges resulting from the various changes. But unfortunately, even though people of all genders and socioeconomic statuses have struggled to cope with this unprecedented situation, women—especially mothers—have been extremely burdened by their new home lives. 

Working women have found themselves being tasked with both their professional responsibilities and expectations to take over household responsibilities, which have become a bigger burden with families being constantly at home. In families with children, despite mothers and fathers both being at home, mothers are still bearing most of the responsibility for domestic labor and child care (commonly known as “the second shift”). The Women in the Workplace report finds that in parents with children younger than 10, 76% of mothers—as opposed to 54% of fathers—believe that “childcare is one of their top three challenges during COVID-19.” With similar numbers of mothers and fathers transitioning to working from home during the pandemic, why are women still expected to handle most of the childcare responsibilities?  

The study also finds that “one in three mothers may be forced to scale back or opt out” of their careers by leaving the workforce, cutting back their hours, or finding less demanding jobs. Women’s opportunities in the workforce are already limited based on the assumption that they will put family before their career. Despite women finding increasing opportunities to enter the workforce, the continued expectation to bear all of the household responsibilities has limited many women from focusing on their careers as much as they would like to.

Many companies are now at risk for losing women in leadership positions, which hurts the diversity of the work environment. Women in senior positions are more likely to promote “racial and gender diversity” along with programs that benefit employees. Companies rely on women in executive positions to foster a more welcoming, diverse company culture. Women provide essential perspectives, and as the study shows, also tend to be more willing to listen to other employees and their perspectives. 

The challenges of the pandemic has further revealed how working women continue to be constrained by their domestic responsibilities..

Can we really have equality for women in the workforce until women feel that they don’t have to sacrifice their personal lives for their professional lives, or vice versa? The challenges of the pandemic has further revealed how working women continue to be constrained by their domestic responsibilities. As the report concludes, companies need to take greater action to support their employees who identify as women. Doing so will allow women to advance their careers and to contribute to their company environments.