Approximately 60% of American women who gave birth in the last 12 months were in the labor force. About one in four American women who are mothers are single mothers. And women still make up most of the nation’s caregivers. While in most families every adult works, when a child is added to the family, or when a child for whatever reason has to stay home from school, as well as when an aging parent suddenly needs help, the caregiver tends to be the female of the species.
It’s why during the pandemic more working women paid a professional price than working men. In the last fifteen months over a million women went part time or gave up their jobs altogether, mostly to stay with children now home from school. (In September 2020 four times as many women as men dropped out of the labor force.) Hundreds of thousands of women reported feeling burned out to the point where they considered quitting their jobs. And women’s level of professional ambition declined: according to one survey, in March 2020, 54% of women described themselves as being “very ambitious.” Twelve months later the number had dropped to 42%.
But this is a story not just about gender but about class. Women on lower rungs of the economic ladder have fewer choices than do men, especially as they pertain to childcare. Women higher up can, if they want, outsource childcare; women lower down do not usually have that option. They do not have the money to pay caregivers of any kind – which largely explains why Covid-19 has impacted women unequally.
But most of the reports about how the pandemic has had a greater impact on working women than men are about women who are not in upper-level management. They are about women who are in the middle and at the bottom of the organizational ladder.
Women higher up are, though, likely to have a different experience – a very different experience. They are likely to be advantaged by the pandemic, not disadvantaged, specifically by the hybrid model that is the future of the American workplace.
The pandemic will create more work-from-home opportunities for more people. Still, in the United States at least, assuming Covid-19 numbers continue to decline, most people in most organizations will be pressured to return to the workplace, if not full time then close to it.
Women in the top tiers of management will however prove an exception to the general rule. When they return to work they will have more choices. Men with power will not now dare challenge women with power on the issue of working remotely. This means these women – women leaders – will feel newly entitled to work from home part of the time, and to maintain flexible schedules.
Happy Mother’s Day… at least for a chosen few.