The pandemic is leaving working parents everywhere in urgent need of virtual learning and childcare solutions. Working mothers are getting hit the hardest, as moms take on a disproportionate share — close to 70% — of household duties, according to research from Northwestern University. And the misaligned reopenings of businesses, schools and support services are compounding the issue by driving these women out of the labor force while amplifying their family responsibilities.
CNN reports that one in five adults is currently unemployed as a direct result of the pandemic upending their childcare arrangements. Of those parents who are forced to choose kids over career, mothers are nearly three times more likely than fathers to stay home. They’re also more liable to lose their jobs for good. “The impact could last a lifetime, reducing their earning potential and work opportunities,” a New York Times article states. “Women who drop out of the workforce to take care of children often have trouble getting back in.”
I recently had the opportunity to speak with BBC World News America Lead Anchor Katty Kay at this past week’s ASCM CONNECT annual conference. She drove home many of these points, helping me better understand the challenges that women have entering and maintaining their roles within the workforce.
Many of Kay’s lessons were echoed by Betsey Stevenson, an economics and public policy professor at the University of Michigan and a former chief economist at the U.S. Labor Department, in The Times article: “This pandemic has exposed some weaknesses in American society that were always there, and one of them is the incomplete transition of women into truly equal roles in the labor market.”
Another factor that really can’t be ignored is that the choice to quit and stay home is a luxury only available to women with a certain kind of financial freedom. Low-income parents have scant alternatives. And for single, low-income parents, it’s simply not an option. One-third of children in the United States live with a single parent.
Limited near-term solutions
Some cities, companies and organizations are trying to make an impact. San Francisco has opened free learning hubs to support distance learning, prioritizing low-income families, children in public housing or the foster care system, and homeless youth. Many businesses are offering new telecommuting options and childcare stipends. And companies including Salesforce, PepsiCo, Pinterest and Uber signed a pledge to provide more flexibility and resources for working parents.
“Manufacturers are shifting worker schedules, adding on-site day care and helping employees find other child-care arrangements as they work to increase output,” a recent Wall Street Journal Article notes. “About 45 children of Toyota Motor Corp. employees are attending a new virtual-learning center at a car plant in Georgetown, Ky., run by Bright Horizons Family Solutions Inc. The children use laptops to do schoolwork, while in-person teachers monitor their progress. Toyota said this has helped workers show up and be more productive at work.”
Each day, we’re seeing new examples of how the consequences of COVID-19 will long outlive the pandemic itself. Working mothers are on a dismal path, with years of potential obstacles stripping away many of the gains they’ve made with regards to equitable jobs and pay. I encourage supply chain leaders to consider some of the options stated here for their own organizations. Diversity of thought and contribution — especially from women — is essential to business success. We can take this important stand together.