The first year of the pandemic has been devastating for working women in a way that we’re only just beginning to quantify. We all know it’s bad. But how bad?
There’s no better place to start than by looking at the pandemic’s effects on women in the tech industry, which is well-known for setting extremely difficult barriers for young women to build careers. To ensure there’s more than just anecdotal evidence of the new challenges facing women and underrepresented groups, Girls in Tech conducted a formal study: The Tech Workplace for Women in the Pandemic. And the results are just as gut-wrenching as every working woman would expect.
The biggest takeaway from the study: Male leaders are the leading cause of burnout for working women. When the top executive at the company is male, 85 percent of women reported burnout. More fascinating: At companies with a female executive in the top role, only 15 percent of women report burnout.
But in a pandemic, working women don’t have much choice and an overwhelming percent (93 percent) of full-time employees say they are lucky to just have a job.
Burnout is also connected to the closure of offices, schools, day care, and pretty much everything else in society—with the burden of homeschooling a particularly arduous task that disproportionately fell on the shoulders of mothers. In the study, nearly four in five (79 percent) working moms with kids in the house report feeling burned out. Every household is different in the sharing of responsibilities, but women spend more time than men on childcare, as a caregiver, and on housework. This equates to a part-time job on top of an already 40-hour work week.
That new 40-hour work week does have some perks, with 76 percent of respondents saying they prefer working from home over working in the office. But even during the pandemic, more than one in four women (27 percent) report being sexually harassed in the workplace. Clearly, the switch from in-person meetings to Zoom calls and communications moving out of the office clearly haven’t done much to deter sexual harassment.
More than four in ten (41 percent) respondents in the Girls in Tech study declare that they witness racial inequity at their workplace.
Perhaps it’s fortunate that many women in the study don’t anticipate returning to the office in-person once pandemic restrictions are lifted. Eighty-seven percent of full-time employees expect the workforce to look very different after the pandemic, and nearly the same number of workers expect employers will adjust to meet the different needs of their employees after the pandemic. Eighty-eight percent also expect different benefits from their employer post-pandemic.
Many women in industry, and in tech in particular, are barely hanging on as it is. So we must applaud those companies working sincerely to protect female employees impacted by COVID-19. Microsoft added 12 more weeks of paid leave, while Google is offering 14 additional weeks. We’d like to see more organizations follow suit.
Unfortunately, that’s hard to imagine in 2021, as the top of the corporate ladder has consistently denied access to women. In the S&P 500, which is increasingly dominated by tech companies, there are only two Silicon Valley companies with female CEOs. Board representation is equally dismal. Just getting women to meet the minimum 50 percent of boardroom is a struggle.
We can and should be hopeful that lessons will be learned, but this study is proof that sitting idle won’t reverse the losses of working women over the last year. Girls in Tech’s new four-year campaign, Half the Board, aims to take these lessons and deliver them straight to the boardroom with a demand: 50/50 by 2025. It’s an ambitious plan. It’s also long overdue and easily achievable for any company willing to make the pledge.
Amid March’s parade of observances—Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day and Equal Pay Day—there’s no better time for speaking loudly and pushing every company to accept the Half the Board mandate.