Lifting Up the Need for Supports and Childcare for Women in the Workforce During the Pandemic and After

Employers have created millennial-friendly offices that take into account that workers need and value in order to be successful. Why haven’t we done the same for women?

By C. Nicole Mason

Over the past decade, there have been hundreds of articles written about how to accommodate  millennials in the workplace. Millennials, now the largest segment in the workplace, value work-life balance, flexible work schedules, and more relaxed work attire. The 1960s work culture of late hours, stale suits, and jobs where employees feel undervalued are non-negotiables for this cohort of workers. Employers have responded, creating millennial-friendly offices that take into account what these workers need and value in order to be successful in the jobs. The question is why haven’t we done the same for women?

 At the start of the year, women made up more than 50 percent of the workforce and a majority or primary or co-breadwinners, earning at least 40 percent of all household earnings. The number of the women in the workforce has fallen dramatically since start of the Pandemic. Women now comprise 49.2 percent of all workers, still close to half of all U.S. workers.  Despite the number of women in the workforce, employer practices and policies haven’t shifted to accommodate their needs or provided work supports that would make them successful in their jobs and help them advance in their careers. For the most part, employers still use a “Mad Men” workplace model centered around a male breadwinner, who can work endless hours and has a stay-at-home wife. This model is outdated and hasn’t been a reality for decades.

In 2019, in 49 percent of married-couple families both the husband and wife were employed. The rate of married-couple families where only the husband was employed is just 18.5 percent. In families with children, 91.3 percent of parents work outside of the home and one in two of more than 30 million families in the U.S. with children under the age of 18 have a breadwinner mother.

Long gone are the days where women’s income accounted for a minor share of household income and workforce participation was optional. This was never the case for Black and Latino women, whose income has consistently made a considerable portion of their household incomes.

COVID-19 and its impact has exposed the fragility of the U.S. economy and the healthcare system, and has shed light on the dual role women workers hold: Primary wage earner and primary care giver. With schools out, childcare centers closed, and stay-home-orders in effect across the country, the caretaking demands placed upon mothers have increased significantly, forcing many working mothers into a near impossible position: take care of their children or risk losing their job.

In a recent Op-Ed in the Washington Post, Melinda Gates rightfully points this out. She says, “It’s always been women who shoulder the burden of care. Even when most women work full-time outside the home, they still spend two hours more each day on household tasks and caregiving.”

Gates is not alone. Sheryl Sandberg, LeanIn co-Founder, is also sounding the alarm.  Women, she says, were already working a “double shift. The pandemic is creating a “double double shift. “It’s pushing women to the breaking point.”

Gates and Sandberg join a cacophony of women’s advocates and organizations, such as the National Partnership for Women and Families, the National Women’s Law Center, and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that have long been calling for better work and family policies that would ensure that women not only have access to quality jobs, but have the necessary supports to ensure that they are able to keep them.

Now is the time to create an economy and workplaces that work for more than half of the American workforce: women. It’s long overdue. National paid sick and family leave, childcare supports and employer-sponsor or subsidized facilities, and flexible work schedules would go a long-way towards this effort. If we can do it for millennials, we can do it for women too.