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NewsJul 28, 2020

Gender and COVID-19: How the Pandemic Is Amplifying Existing Differences

Ileana Martinez, Allie Buckmaster, and Christina Flores

The Credera Women’s Network (CWN) recently hosted an educational event discussing the specific impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women with regards to mental and physical health, traditional gender roles, and the economy. The event was titled Gender and COVID-19: Exploring the Gender Impacts of COVID-19 and How We Can Support Each Other and Our Clients. During the event, we provided research on the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on gender across the above three dimensions and also facilitated a candid conversation on how COVID-19 has specifically impacted women at Credera with regards to client and team communications, work-life integration, physical and mental health, and sentiments around returning to the office.

While the conversation was specific to the females of our firm, the research and discussion themes are relevant and valuable for a broader audience. By staying informed, we can serve as better allies to those communities who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic most severely.

health impact

A major risk factor of contracting COVID-19 is exposure. While most industries with frontline workers are male dominated (e.g., law enforcement, public transit, utilities, etc.), there are a few key industries on the frontlines dominated by women, including health care and social work. The health care workforce makes up roughly 30% of the essential workforce, and about 85% of that workforce is female. These two variables end up roughly offsetting each other, with research showing that the same number of men and women are considered essential workers and are most exposed to the virus (49% female, 51% male). These numbers align with the number of recorded COVID-19 cases by gender, with 45.7% female and 54.3% male.

While men and women are about equally as likely to contract COVID-19, the number of recorded deaths in most countries shows that men are more at risk of dying from the virus. While there is no one specific reason as to why, factors may include stronger immune systems among women, as well as cultural differences whereby men are more likely to smoke and less likely to follow social distancing guidelines.

impact of traditional gender roles in the home

While men and women have both taken up more household and care responsibilities due to COVID-19, research shows that women are more likely to be impacted by these expectations. In fact, research has shown that more women than men are taking on a disproportionate amount of housework due to societal pressures. Because of this, many women are pulling “double shifts”—working full-time jobs and taking up more household and childcare duties than normal. This has led to many women working less than normal. However, many men have reported working more than normal during COVID-19, perhaps due to the lack of societal pressures to take on household and childcare duties. This is represented by the idea of “doing gender,” which is “repetitiously producing and reinforcing differences between men and women through a series of actions and accomplishments.” If society continues to promote traditional roles, progress on stabilizing stereotypes will falter. Barbara Risman, professor at University of Illinois at Chicago sums up the impact of traditional gender roles at home with her quote, “Being forced to be at home is amplifying the differences we already know exist.”

women and the economic fallout

It is not news to anyone that even before the pandemic women in the United States were already making about 20% less than men on average. The existing wage gap has reared its head in recent months as the economic fallout of COVID-19 has deepened pre-existing structural inequalities. In fact, 60% of the 700,000 jobs that had been eliminated by April 2020 were jobs held by women. This is largely because women dominate sectors that have been hit hardest by the pandemic, such as hospitality, tourism, transportation, entertainment, housekeeping, childcare, and other high-contact service jobs. Intersectionality is at the core of understanding how COVID-19 impacts different communities, as these sectors are not only dominated by women, by also by people of color. One in five Black women and one in five Latina women remained unemployed in May, compared to a 10.7% unemployment rate for white men.

Women’s Unemployment Rates: December 2019 – May 2020

Source: National Women’s Law Center calculations based on data from Bureau of Labor Statistics

Because income is a health determinant, the deepening wage gap has implications for whether women will seek necessary health care during the pandemic. Women already experienced higher rates of poverty prior to this year, so it is no surprise that a higher share of women forego health care services due to cost when compared to men. In this way, the pandemic’s economic and physiological repercussions are deeply intertwined. Randy Albelda, professor of economics at University of Massachusetts Boston, captures the deeply contextual impacts of the pandemic on different communities of women in this quote:

“It’s sort of this double-edged sword. You’re more likely to be unemployed, but when you are employed, you’re more likely to be vulnerable to the virus.”

impact at credera

During our open discussion on how working from home has affected our gender dynamics, our physical and mental health, and our stance on working from home, we openly communicated our personal struggles and triumphs alike and provided community and empathy around an isolating topic. Our women have experienced not only the universal emotions of fear and confusion, but also the additional pressures that are often placed on women.

It is vital to consider as many perspectives as possible in times both uncertain and trying as we all go through unique challenges that need addressing. Whether that is actionable change or showing empathy, both are highly impactful.

what’s next?

Fortunately, what we learned about how the pandemic and working from home have been affecting women at Credera will not remain in a silo. The anonymous feedback gathered during the discussion has been disseminated among Credera’s management team, and leaders at Credera have shown readiness to identify specific actions they can take, both at home and at work, to remain sensitive toward the differential effects of the pandemic on female employees. We saw active efforts to educate and provide allyship from a top-down perspective almost immediately after we shared the feedback and discussion themes.

We would be remiss to not acknowledge that although Credera’s women are not immune to the effects of working from home, we are nonetheless in an extremely fortunate and protected situation when compared to women in vulnerable sectors who are facing unemployment or putting their lives at risk. We encourage the CWN, the broader Credera community, and anyone reading this post to support the following two organizations:

  • Black Women’s Health Imperative, whose mission is to address the most pressing health issues that affect Black women and girls in the United States.

  • Black Girls Code, whose focus is on providing technology education for Black girls in the United States.

As previously discussed, you cannot fully understand the long-term impacts of COVID-19 without understanding intersectionality, and the mission of these organizations tackles the intersection of gender and racial inequalities. Credera made the commitment to match all employee donations to these and other organizations in the month of July.

If you are interested in learning more about how Credera has been supporting both the internal and external community, please email findoutmore@credera.com.

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