Coronavirus Adding Extra Pressure On Working Women

A new study finds 1 in 4 women are considering downshifting or leaving the workplace due to COVID-19.
Posted at 5:58 PM, Oct 01, 2020

"Life before COVID is already crazy as a working mom," says Ziggy Chau, a communications director.  

"My workday starts from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed," says entreprenuer and mom of three Katie Barchas Wilson.

How is the coronavirus affecting working women? A Lean In and McKinsey study found that for the first time in years, women in corporate America intended to leave their jobs at higher rates than men: 1 in 4 women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce.

"If that happens, we will rewind all the progress we've seen over the last six years of this study. All of the progress on women in leadership in one single year," says Rachel Thomas, CEO of Lean In.

In the 6 years they've done this study, men and women left their companies at about the same rate. But this year, researchers are sounding an alarm: They say the new findings could mean setbacks for gender equality in the workplace.  

"There are fewer women in the workplace already, particularly up in the higher ranks of leadership. If those women leave, we've got a real problem on our hands," says Thomas.  

Lean In's CEO says it's not just about losing the women already in corporate leadership — it's about losing the impact those women can have by helping other women advance.

Aside from senior level women, Black women and mothers were especially impacted. Moms found balancing work and home even more challenging; they were three times more likely than dads to be responsible for the majority of housework and child care in the time of virtual learning. The challenge is, of course, even greater for single moms. 

"Thankfully, my dad decided to retire during a pandemic, so he's been a huge help," says single mom and banker Lacie Reese. 

Lacie Reese drops her child off at daycare or her at father's. As her household's primary breadwinner, she has no choice but to work — and later come home to her 2-year-old.  

Reese says, "Every time I come home, she welcomes me with open arms, and I kind of deny it at the door. It was kind of sad. Which she got used to it fast. She's like 'Mommy, Mommy, wash your hands.'" 

Spreading the virus to her baby is the last thing Reese wants to do. It's her biggest worry.

"I think those studies are skewed. You don't get the whole real perspective of working women, which is a bigger population than people making 150K and above," says Ziggy Chau, mother and a communications director. 

It's worth noting the study doesn't encompass all working women — entrepreneurs and essential workers outside corporate America aren't included. But Thomas says studies like this show it's still a problem for all women.

"If it's bad for women in corporate America, it's worse for women outside of corporate America because corporate America has generally more support in place," says Thomas.