Last week, while in a meeting with a nonprofit executive, my colleague kept apologizing: Her children were rushing in, asking for help solving multiplication problems and a snack before lunch.
(I didn’t mind the interruptions—considering the countless times my cats have interrupted a meeting by walking over my computer screen.)
After closing the door, my colleague shared how working from home since early March has been a challenge. This nonprofit executive—who has climbed the ladder in her organization and is respected in her field—didn’t have to apologize to me. Being frustrated with your kids is normal and balancing all these responsibilities is scary. But she felt like she had to. She, like many women, is experiencing the emotional burdens of COVID-19.
The next day, I had another meeting—this time, with a man in an executive role at a different organization. He was in his home office, and I marveled at the calm scene behind him and the quietness of his room.
Suddenly, he said, “I’m sorry—my kids are playing in the other room.” (I couldn’t hear a thing.)
He also said it was hard to work with three kids in the house, but his wife “was able to calm them down.”
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The New York Times recently published a report on the impacts of COVID-19 on working moms.
“I feel like I have five jobs: mom, teacher, C.C.O., house cleaner, chef,” Sarah Joyce Wiley—chief client officer at a Massachusetts health services company—told the New York Times. “My kids also call me ‘Principal mommy’ and the ‘lunch lady.’ It’s exhausting.”
It’s not that men aren’t feeling stressed—but in heterosexual relationships, domestic responsibilities, more often than not, tend to fall on the mother. As Andrea Flynn, director of health equity at the Roosevelt Institute, wrote in a viral op-ed for Ms.:
Three weeks ago, most of us—proud feminists and progressives—would have said we shared the burden of parenting relatively evenly. (I say relatively because research shows that, despite couples feeling they have egalitarian relationships, women still do the lion’s share of domestic labor.)
Why then, at times of crisis, do these imbalances emerge?
Because structural sexism is always lurking just below the surface, ready to rear its ugly head and quickly upset any semblance of intra-household gender equity.
The scary thing? The pressure of women to balance everything at home isn’t just going to go away once COVID-19 ends. Women’s careers are at sake.
Recently, the Lily published a report on the impacts of COVID-19 on academia—specifically how it can impact tenure and future opportunities for women and men.
[COVID-19] threatens to derail the careers of women in academia, says Leslie Gonzales, a professor of education administration at Michigan State University, who focuses on strategies for diversifying the academic field: When institutions are deciding who to grant tenure to, how will they evaluate a candidate’s accomplishments during coronavirus?
Prior to the pandemic, some studies showed that in recent years, the gender gap in academia—specifically related to tenure and doctorate degrees—was beginning to level out.
However, since the onset of coronavirus, editors have noticed a trend: Women academics are submitting fewer papers during coronavirus—with some fields like astrophysics reporting a 50 percent productivity loss among women. This could mean the gender gap in higher education is rearing its ugly head again.
“We don’t want a committee to look at the outlier productivity of, say, a white hetero man with a spouse at home and say, ‘Well, this person managed it,’” Gonzales told the Lily. “We don’t want to make that our benchmark [of deciding tenure or not].”
The obvious reason? Women— disproportionately more than men—are working full-time … and teaching their kids … and balancing domestic responsibilities all at the same time, giving men the time to write, submit and ultimately advance their careers.
In response, some universities are offering one-year extensions for professors who were aiming for a tenure track position.
But this solution is not enough, Gonzales says. In addition, for the next several years, there should be a note added to every tenure application, instructing readers to consider how the coronavirus “fallout has very different effects across gender and race.”
“We essentially want to say, ‘Hey, this was a big deal for a lot of people.’”
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