By Andi Simon, Ph.D.
What does it say about our culture when moms and their children are facing unbearable pain and trauma during the pandemic? This crisis has amplified the way women in the U.S. are undervalued, or not valued at all. While it is widely known that America lags far behind all other industrialized countries in paid maternity leave, appropriate childcare and suitable work/life balance for mothers, the challenges of the current public health crisis have brought to the fore front the severity of these issues. Why, we must ask, do mothers have to disproportionately bear the burden of household work and care for family members? To add to the unfair burden of labor, women still earn 18% less than men, often with little or no employer or spousal support.
How can this be? What are we missing in this story?
As a corporate anthropologist who worked from the time my daughters were three weeks old (having obtained no paid leave then either), I have gotten past the anger and frustration. Like many women, I have accepted this as just the way it is. But, does the workplace have to continue to operate with these unfair standards?
Before the pandemic, women made up more than half the work force at 58%. This was the highest percentage of woman in the workplace than what had been observed for a long time. Yet 40% of children are born to single mothers. At the same time as the role of men as fathers and co-caregivers has shifted, so had the role of single mothers in the workplace. Only 69.6% of men are employed full-time, and 6.3% are unemployed (5.9 million), as of February 2021. The academic dropout rate for men is 20% higher than for women: 6.2% of men don’t complete high school and 58% who start college don’t complete a four-year program (48% at private institutions).
During the pandemic, 10 million jobs have been lost. Over half these positions were held by women, often women of color. In December 2020 alone, 140,000 jobs were eliminated– all of which had been held by women.
Women, on the other hand, have generated most of the new jobs since the 2008 recession.
Before the pandemic, women owned and ran 40% of the businesses in the U.S. Many of these businesses were second incomes. Others were necessity businesses–from hair salons to “solopreneurs”–trying to thrive in a gig economy that, since 2019, has grown to encompass one third of the workforce.
To add one more injustice, our healthcare system is among the world’s worst for women.
US women have the highest maternal mortality rate among 11 developed countries. Women in the US also have one of the highest rates of c-sections. US women also face the greatest burden of illness, highest rates of skipping needed healthcare because of cost, most difficulty affording healthcare, and report the least satisfaction with their quality of care. One in three women in the US report having emotional distress. Clearly, we need to transform the US healthcare experience quickly into one that cares about women’s health.
When will men, who have the power to change our society, recognize the pain they are creating for women?
When you add it all up, women seem like superheroes. They attempt to achieve work-life balance. They worry about childcare and parent care. They try to build careers and grow businesses, often with family and friends as the major source of funding. They strive to provide healthy, safe environments for their families, sometimes with little or no help. Is this as good as it gets for women?
I venture to guess that no, it can get better. It will get better. It must get better. How? By all of us–women and men–fighting for a new, improved normal. By refusing to accept defeat, women can make a change.
About Andi Simon
Andi Simon, Ph.D, author of Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business, is an international leader in the emerging field of corporate anthropology and founder and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants. A trained practitioner in Blue Ocean Strategy, Simon has conducted over 400 workshops and speeches on the topic as well as consulted with a wide range of clients across the globe. She also is the author of the award-winning book On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights. Simon has a successful podcast, On the Brink with Andi Simon, that has more than 125,000 monthly listeners, and is ranked among the top 20 Futurist podcasts and top 200 business podcasts for entrepreneurs. In addition, Global Advisory Experts named Simons’ firm the Corporate Anthropology Consultancy Firm of the Year in New York – 2020. She has been on Good Morning, America and Bloomberg, and is widely published in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Forbes, Business Week, Becker’s, and American Banker, among others. She has been a guest blogger for Forbes.com, Huffington Post, and Fierce Health.