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The City Journals

Women & Leadership Project survey shows women in the workforce are struggling

Sep 27, 2021 12:41PM ● By Peri Kinder

A survey conducted by the Utah Women & Leadership Project shows women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. (Adobe stock)

By Peri Kinder | [email protected]

If there’s one good thing about COVID-19, it might be that the pandemic illuminated the challenges that women face in the workforce, especially with childcare. As schools and daycare facilities closed at the beginning of the pandemic, women bore a disproportionate share of the burden as they tried to keep their heads above water by juggling job responsibilities, homeschooling kids and taking care of housework. 

Salt Lake County resident Heather Stewart felt the struggle firsthand when her office shut down, schools closed and she was stuck trying to homeschool two elementary school-aged children while keeping up with her full-time job. 

“It was hard to get done what I needed for work and be present for my kids,” she said. “I felt stretched in every direction. My daughter got behind in math. I knew it was happening, I could see it happening but I didn’t have the energy to do anything about it. I was so burned out.”

Dr. Susan Madsen, founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project, said she thinks it’s time to start a conversation about supporting women in their roles as business leaders and mothers.

“Finally, the pandemic is opening the eyes of some legislators,” Madsen said. “Lt. Governor [Deidre] Henderson is on this and she knows we need to support our families.”

More than 3,500 women responded to a survey sent out by the UWLP, asking them to share challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic in regard to caregiving, career advancement, homeschool experiences and burnout. 

The results showed 16% of women had some type of withdrawal from the workplace, whether it was a layoff, the company closed, their hours were cut or they were furloughed. For another 12%, women saw their workload increase by moving from part-time to full-time or by taking on more responsibility. 

“We had women who just couldn’t do it. They couldn’t watch their toddler and teach their 3-year-old and manage their departments,” Madsen said. “Teachers really took the brunt. They weren’t being appreciated and put in so much more.”

Madsen shared an example of a teacher who was sick with COVID but was still teaching online. There was nobody to fill in for her and she couldn’t let her students down. Childcare workers were also heavily impacted by COVID. The ones who responded to the survey expressed frustration at being disrespected and unseen. They don’t want to do it anymore. 

“In every case, they felt they were trying to take care of essential workers’ kids while worrying about spreading the virus to other children who might take it home to a parent or grandparent,” Madsen said.

While national and global reports show the majority of workers were adversely affected by the pandemic, women seemed to be affected disproportionately. When Stewart was asked to participate at an in-person meeting for her job, all the men could be there, but she couldn’t attend without finding childcare. 

“Why was I the only one who had to stay home with the kids?” she said. “It’s such an entrenched part of how our society operates. My workplace was actually great and very understanding. It’s just how things shake out. But it’s how things always shake out.”

The survey found similar results for women trying to balance working from home with teaching children. Mothers did the lion’s share of the work to keep everything together.

“It was really the moms that took a beating,” Madsen said. “Only 24% of respondents said they had a supportive spouse or partner. The hard thing about work is it’s societal. You have to change society. We've been socialized from the time we’re born to believe that men should be leaders.”

Madsen wants to start the discussion with legislators about improving the workplace for women by enhancing leave policies, creating flexible schedules and helping moms with childcare support. The UWLP will host a free, online fireside chat with Henderson on Friday, Oct. 1, at noon to tackle these topics. The event will be livestreamed to reach as many people as possible. Madsen hopes men will also listen to the conversation.

Visit UTWomen.org for more information about this discussion with the lieutenant governor who has secured the reputation for being an advocate for women. 

“I feel called to do this work,” Madsen said. “It’s not women versus men. What lifts women, lifts men, too. More people are listening but more people need to join the conversation.”