The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender equality issues, and women in tech roles are often those suffering most. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing problems and what needs to change.
The Pandemic Worsened Women’s Burdens
Working from home might seem like a dream come true for women in tech, and indeed, throughout all industries. After all, remote work allows them to do away with long, stressful commutes, and it may free them up from the time they’d ordinarily spend applying makeup, choosing outfits or otherwise making efforts to appear more presentable in public.
However, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that women often had to continue their housework and child care responsibilities during the pandemic as they engaged in remote work. More specifically, females were more than twice as likely to bear the primary responsibility for those duties, even when their partners worked from home, too.
The gender imbalance was even more dramatic in heterosexual couples when the woman worked remotely, and her male partner worked outside the home. In such cases, the man often reported that the housework and child-raising duties he did were less than before.
The pandemic was not the beginning of this unequal distribution of work. However, it made it more severe in many cases. One significant reason was that so many schools switched to remote learning options, and child care facilities closed temporarily. Then, women who may have had a relatively quiet house while their kids were at school or daycare had to manage differently after those options no longer existed.
Research shows that remote workers are often happier and more productive than their in-office counterparts. However, the reality often depends on how well a person’s home facilitates achieving consistent focus with few distractions. (Read also: How to Ensure Peak Remote Work Productivity.)
Plus, if a woman feels constantly preoccupied about all the housework and family responsibilities that await her after she goes off the clock, it’ll understandably be hard to concentrate.
Women May Feel Compelled To Assess Job Options
Many women found that it was unsustainable to remain in their jobs during the pandemic. Sometimes that happened when employers did not take the pandemic seriously and required people to keep working in offices, putting employees or vulnerable household members at an elevated risk.
Additionally, a study of women in tech found they were nearly twice as likely as men to have lost their jobs or been furloughed during COVID-19. The pandemic has caused many people to reassess what’s most important in their lives and take stock of what’s not working well. When women find themselves facing a resume gap or eyeing a return to the workforce after taking a break due to COVID-19, childbirth or another reason, appealing options exist for them. (Read also: 5 Ways to Support Women in Your Tech Company.)
Pursuing Relaunch and Return-to-Work Programs
Wells Fargo has a Glide — Relaunch program for professionals who want to resume their careers after a life event. Similarly, IBM’s Tech Re-Entry Program offers a paid returnship program that could result in full-time employment. There’s also the STEM Reentry Task Force, geared towards females in technology and engineering roles that are ready to resume their careers.
Addressing Resume Gaps
If questions come up during an interview about why a woman has a career history gap, the language used to respond can turn that reality into an advantage. Additionally, maybe she got laid off during the pandemic and used the time to learn a new coding language or enroll in an online course relevant to her career path.
Considering Remote Jobs Based in Other Cities or Countries
One positive of the pandemic that many people can agree on is that it made employers realize the potential of remote work. Even though working remotely can increase the stresses that women deal with daily, that’s not always the case.
During COVID-19, some people became fed up with the high rent, congestion and other issues associated with large cities and decided to move elsewhere. One study found that 56% of U.S. households plan to move in 2021. The beauty of remote work is that women in tech can expand their searches to other cities or countries if appealing tech roles don’t exist near them.
Females in Tech Likely To Experience Burnout
The first annual Girls in Tech survey assessed how the pandemic affected women in the industry. One finding was that 79% of working moms reported feeling burned out. Another conclusion was that the outcome was more likely to occur when women had male supervisors. In such cases, burnout happened 63% of the time versus 44% of instances with female bosses.
Another startling finding was that burnout among females in tech is much more likely when a company’s highest-ranking executive is a man. 85% of respondents reported such incidents versus only 15% feeling burned out when the top leader was a woman.
COVID-19 may have exacerbated burnout likelihood, particularly if women had new worries related to becoming ill or caring for sick loved ones. However, burnout in tech is not a new issue, nor is it a female-exclusive problem.
A 2018 study conducted by Blind showed that more than 57% of tech sector workers felt burned out. When researchers asked respondents about the causes, they cited issues with excessive workload, a toxic culture, a lack of control and insufficient career growth opportunities among the matters at hand.
Strategies for Change
Helping women in tech target these pressing issues will not be easy. Moreover, some changes must occur within personal and familial relationships to have the most beneficial effects. For example, an employer might offer to let a woman conduct most of her workday during off-hours once her toddlers have gone to bed. Another strategy could be to let her tackle her most mentally strenuous tasks during a child’s naptime or out-of-the-home playdate.
Those things help, but it’s even more advantageous if the males in that person’s life and household recognizes the extra strain caused by managing household responsibilities, child care and professional work all at once, and can try to relieve some of it.
It’s also positive that a growing number of companies offer programs to help women restart their careers. Another step in the right direction would occur if employers were more understanding that stepping into a caregiving role or having a baby may shift a person’s priorities, but doesn’t make them incapable of work or any less talented. For example, agreeing to let a woman work part-time while addressing other necessities in her life prevents resume gaps.
Getting to the heart of the burnout issue varies depending on an organization’s most prevalent contributors to the problem. Are late-night app launch sessions or website updates mostly to blame? Perhaps workers feel that supervisors don’t recognize their achievements, making them feel exhausted with little to show for it. (Read also: Why Is There Still a Gender Gap in Tech?)
In any case, getting worker feedback is the first step in solving any problem, whether it mostly affects women or everyone. Then, decision-makers can confirm where the biggest issues lie and discuss how to mitigate them.
No Simple Solutions
Solving these issues and making the workforce more gender-balanced is not straightforward. However, committing to addressing the problem is necessary to improve it and make the workplace more attractive to everyone.