March is Women’s History Month, which celebrates the contributions and achievements of women in the United States. What started as a grassroots movement in California spread to communities across the country, eventually becoming Women’s History Week in 1982 and Women’s History Month in 1987.

However, roughly a hundred years earlier, National Women’s Day emerged. Its radical roots date back to the 1800s and early 1900s, when women (especially immigrant women) were forced to endure oppressive working conditions inside textile mills just to survive. They decided enough was enough and began demanding equal rights, including the right to vote.

What started as a bottom-up movement spread internationally. In 1975 the United Nations declared March 8th International Women’s Day. While many fights have been waged and eventually won, the struggle for women’s rights continues today.

Our ongoing pandemic has magnified and exacerbated many of these struggles. This post aims to highlight some of those challenges and present a few solutions.

Moving backward

Women made many gains during the last several decades, which seem to be coming to a screeching halt. In a recent BBC News article on coronavirus and gender, Anita Bhatia, UN Women Deputy Executive Director, says the pandemic could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equity and that it poses a “real risk of reverting to 1950’s gender stereotypes.”

Gallup also found that women were hit harder by job losses than men. Women often work in fields that have seen spikes in unemployment, such as food service, personal care, social work and administrative support.

Women also tend to work in fields considered essential and require in-person interaction, like healthcare, education and social services. Although some women prefer to keep working during their golden years, many have felt forced to flee the labor force to avoid the virus.

Meanwhile, “men have been promoted three times more than women during the pandemic,” according to a CNBC article. Men often dominate management, leadership and CEO positions, which not only grant them financial security but also enable them to work from home—comfortably distanced from the pandemic.

Women (and girls), on the other hand, have been taking on the majority of housework and raising children, according to an article in The Guardian. These extra burdens on working mothers have led to skyrocketing stress that threatens their well-being. The American Psychological Association (APA) noted that mothers are more likely to report that their mental health has gotten worse during the pandemic. One working mom told Gallup, “This year has been a roller coaster blur of exhaustion, treading water, self-doubt, and loss of identity. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get ahead. I’m behind on emails, behind on work, behind on dishes, laundry, the list goes on.”

Raising a family in the U.S. is no easy task, even before the pandemic. The U.S. is the only wealthy country that does not offer guaranteed paid parental leave, universal childcare or preschool education. The pandemic and ensuing economic crisis have made this shaky situation even more tenuous.

Black, brown and immigrant working women have faced extra barriers and challenges, including limited access to a quality education and living wages. They often perform essential work in food service and healthcare. According to a recent Gallop poll, 87% of Black women say they do not have access to good jobs in their community, and 66% say they cannot live comfortably with their current income. It’s also no surprise that Black women say they feel less valued and respected at work.

The majority of minimum wage workers are women and mothers whose wages are so low they are unable to pay for life’s basic necessities, such as housing and food. Over 30 million U.S. children rely on school lunches. Due to the pandemic and school shutdowns, many children are going hungry and relief has been minimal. Women are still paid less than men, particularly white men. Again, these disparities are greatest among Black and Latina women.

The majority of caregivers are also women. Even in “good times” caregivers face unique psychological, emotional and financial burdens. The pandemic has also caused domestic violence to skyrocket. Sexual violence also disproportionately affects women. Thankfully, movements like #MeToo have begun to push back against these exploitative practices.

Looking forward

Workplaces can take steps to alleviate these inequalities. Some organizations like Costco, Target and Amazon are leading the way in raising wages and benefits. Millennial CEO Dan Price has also become a hero and online favorite when he raised his workers’ pay at Gravity Payments.

Managers can help alleviate women’s extra burdens by offering flexible, hybrid schedules. Check in with employees and ask them what it would take for them to be successful in the job they’re in. Splitting shifts, working certain hours, working remotely full- or part-time should be considered. During the pandemic, organizations were forced to adopt remote or alternative work schedules that allowed them to put these practices to the test. Remote work was so successful that many organizations are adopting these practices going forward.

Supportive managers, particularly those who act as coaches and account for individual and diverse perspectives, can help alleviate perceptions of not feeling valued. Promoting more women to leadership roles, especially women of color, can show that organizations are walking the talk.

Harvard Business Review found that women were rated as better leaders and tend to lead better through a crisis than their male counterparts. In a meta-analysis conducted by Purdue, it’s also been found that women are more collaborative and democratic leaders than men, who tend to operate autocratically. Why is this important? Because collaboration can increase your organization’s bottom line.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI or EDI) trainings can also help to create a culture that allows diverse voices to thrive. FEI offers DEI trainings that can help get this conversation started.

Finally, FEI’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help with issues affecting mental health, including stress, workplace issues, family issues, substance abuse, resilience and so much more. Contact us to learn more about how we can help.