Recent research shows that COVID-19 is setting working moms back in their careers. 

Dr. Dana Sumpter, an associate professor of organization theory and management at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio Business School, has been working on a study that details how many women, and particularly mothers, have been forced out of the workforce due to the pandemic. 

What You Need To Know

  • Research shows that many mothers have been forced out of the workforce due to the pandemic

  • Dr. Dana Sumpter interviewed 54 working mothers about their experiences navigating work and family responsibilities since last March

  • Sumpter found that women were being overburdened with both career and childcare obligations

  • The associate professor said women must have honest conversations to find balance in their career and childcare obligations

“Depending on the nature of each partners’ job, one partner can really get the short end of the stick,” she said. “If they were overworking in their job, if they fell into the traditional household responsibilities, and so there’s very much an imbalance in the household.”

Sumpter’s research was recently published in Harvard Business Review, titled “3 Ways Companies Can Retain Working Moms Right Now.” She and co-author Mona Zanhour interviewed 54 working mothers with children under the age of 16 between June and August, each of them sharing experiences navigating work and family responsibilities since last March.

“When my participants describe this time period, it was almost like talking about a trauma," said Sumpter. "It was like they remembered all these details in those days and weeks when everything shut down. So it really speaks to the intensity of that experience and what an upheaval it was.”

Sumpter added that prior to the pandemic, many working mothers relied on a fragile structure of support, such as schools, childcare centers, and paid help. However, once stay-at-homes orders were put in place, these systems broke down and left mothers to juggle jobs and children at the same time.

“For those of us in marriages or relationships, we have some kind of arrangement with our partners or significant others on who does what around the house,” she said. “We also of course relied, for many of us, on paid external help, paid people to help on domestic work. And so when COVID struck, all of that fell apart.”

Sumpter found that some mothers were able to thrive in the new environment by being proactive and determining new schedules that resulted in a more equal distribution of labor. However, she added that many times the opposite occurred, and women were left as the losers in the scenario, being burdened with both career and childcare obligations.

In her research, Sumpter attempted to find solutions for overwhelmed working mothers.

“If one partner is way overloaded, stressed out, maybe experiencing mental health issues, what can I do about it?” she said. “And what was very troubling to hear about quite often is that working mothers tended to not have these conversations with their partners or with their employers about what they needed.”

Sumpter explained that the best way for women to have a more balanced work and home life is by holding honest conversations about their own daily responsibilities.

“It makes sense for someone to take a step back or communicate with their manager or with their clients about what their availability is, and then to adjust your family plan based on all of that information,” she said. “It’s like using good intel to drive decisions and be proactive about it, instead of just reacting to the day or reacting to the times or just falling back on the old gender stereotype roles.”

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