By almost every measure, the coronavirus crisis has been devastating for working women.
More women work on the front lines and are at a greater risk of contracting Covid-19, putting themselves and their families in jeopardy.
They have reported increased anxiety and stress as a direct result of new work routines and concerns about job security.
As women, particularly mothers, exit the workforce, they are also leaving leadership positions and creating a vacancy in representation that had been the result of slow progress over decades.
But for the privileged few who can telecommute, the past year has also offered a rare opportunity to spend more time with their children.
And, it has opened the door to a new work dynamic that could benefit mothers struggling to maintain career and family responsibilities even before the pandemic.
Susan Scerbo with her husband, Francis, and their son Duncan, along with the family dog, Mike.
Source: Aliza Schlabach Photography
Susan Scerbo, 54, a public relations manager in Narberth, Pennsylvania, has been working remotely since the start of the coronavirus outbreak nearly one year ago.
“I live about 50 miles from my workplace, and I am very happy to not be spending two-plus hours in the car commuting,” she said.
‘Having all of that commute time put back in my life has given me more time with my son,” Scerbo said of her 17-year-old, Duncan, who has Down syndrome. “We’ll do an evening walk with the dog, something I never would have been able to do before.
“You never feel like you can do enough,” she added, about parenting a special needs child. “It’s given me time that quells that feeling.”
Working from home has also meant that Lindsey Bailys, 31, has more time with her daughter, who is nearly 2.
“Instead of wasting time commuting, I am able to spend time with my toddler before and after work,” said Bailys, who lives in New York.
Now, “I can long off and do her bath and bedtime and log back on,” she said. “Whereas before, I would have missed that entirely.”
Bailys said she hopes to never return to an office full time. “In my perfect world, I’d love to come in weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.”
Of course, not all workers have the ability to work from home, even during a pandemic. There’s a clear class divide between workers who can and cannot telework.
For others, particularly parents of young children, telecommuting has been especially challenging.
“This forced-home situation exacerbates long-standing gender divisions,” said Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the National Women’s Law Center and the mother of a toddler.
Although childcare challenges fall on both parents, mothers are more likely to manage remote school, as well as take on the additional housework, meal prep and other tasks while families are largely housebound.
“Moms are not OK,” Tucker said. “They are holding too much.”
Yet the Covid crisis offers a rare opportunity to re-examine some of these structural problems, Tucker added, and gives companies a chance to revisit outdated policies and consider ways they can offer a better work-life balance for women and men.
Whether employers will allow employees to continue working from home is still very much up in the air. Many companies have said they will be more flexible going forward, according to a report from The Conference Board.