The coronavirus and economic crises have had negative effects on everyone. But a new survey and its high-profile advocate — Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg — suggest women are being hit hardest by the increased pressures of work and home in the midst of this deadly pandemic.
Coronavirus has exacerbated the stresses and inequities working women were already experiencing, Sandberg said.
Working mothers often work a “double shift” in normal times, logging more time doing housework and childcare than working fathers. But now with schools closed and a lack of childcare, the pressures have compounded.
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“The inequality we’ve always had on the balance of work in the home, which has always hurt women in the office, is now getting worse,” Sandberg said. Women are now doing what she calls a “double double shift.”
The latest survey from LeanIn.org, the women-at-work advocacy group she created, found that women report spending an average of 71.2 hours a week on household chores and caregiving since the onset of the pandemic, while men report 51.5 hours.
That 20-hour difference is “half a full time job,” she notes. “That’s unsustainable. It’s not healthy for them. It’s not healthy for their relationships. It’s not healthy for their children.”
The survey, conducted online in mid-April, also found that single mothers report spending more hours per week on housework, childcare and elder care than women overall, while black and Latina women spend more time doing all three than white women.
What employers should do
If ever there were a moment for bosses to understand that your head is going to explode and to offer ways to help you make your life work, a deadly pandemic seems the perfect time.
“Can a deadline be pushed back? Can you wait for something? Can we acknowledge that even for people who are able to work at home, they have another job which is taking care of their kids?” asked Sandberg, “So can you be more flexible in what you’re expecting and demanding?”
But a high percentage of respondents to the LeanIn.org survey say they aren’t getting that support.
Among male and female essential workers, just 36% said their employers have granted them more flexibility, while just over half (52%) of employees working from home reported the same.
And only a minority of both groups — 24% of essential workers and 41% of those working from home — said they have a manager or anyone from HR who checks in with them to see how they are.
Among the most important things any employer should do — besides paying them — is to offer flexibility, Sandberg said. As part of that, she noted that Facebook canceled its regular performance reviews during this intense period. “Show workers that ‘We know you have more to do,’” she said.
She realizes most employers don’t have Facebook’s deep pockets, but to prove Facebook is serious about letting up on performance assessment, the company said it would pay everyone above the regular bonus for the period.
Secondly, Sandberg said, “make sure employees get the message that ‘you’ve got to take care of yourself [and] your family.’”
And equally important is to make sure managers check in with their direct reports to see how they’re faring emotionally and otherwise.
What individuals can do
For people whose employers are not offering the support they need during the pandemic, it will be hard to make big demands at a time of massive job loss — a staggering 1 in 5 Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March.
But Sandberg suggests smaller ways to improve your situation. Colleagues can have each other’s backs. If you’re checking in with each other, one of you might go to your manager to let her know that the team is feeling disconnected or that several people would benefit from having a more flexible schedule.
And when one of you has to care for a family member who has coronavirus, others might offer to take on some of that person’s work to give them space to do what they need.
On the home front, for women who have partners who can share their burden, “This is the moment to sit down with your partner, to have those honest conversations and to try to get more equality in the home. I know it is difficult to get there, but women need to because women cannot do this double double shift forever,” Sandberg said.
The potential good that can come from this crisis
With the constant barrage of awful news, it’s easy to assume nothing good can come of these twin crises.
But Sandberg hopes that at least where employees — especially women — are concerned, the growing awareness of cracks in the system will lead to some improvements.
On her wish list: More money and benefits for the lowest paid essential workers, many of whom are black and Latina.
“Make sure that when we make workforce changes, we are protecting our most vulnerable workers and recognize how essential essential workers really are,” Sandberg said. “[Their] jobs have always been this valuable, but this is a place for us to see that and hopefully as a society find a way to raise [their] wages.”