Long COVID and careers: Curbing work risks mothers’ economic security

For our free coronavirus pandemic coverage, learn more here.

Women curbing careers to manage the “triple load” of work, homeschooling and extra domestic duties during lockdowns are at risk of a “long-COVID career effect” and diminished economic security, researchers have warned.

Two studies have found mothers in heterosexual, partnered households are more likely to have changed their paid workload, reduced their hours voluntarily or chosen to avoid career progression due to being expected to do most of the extra home load.

Sara O’Callaghan has shifted from management work to cooking and dishwashing, as well as homeschooling children Lexi, Sid, Mathilda and Iggy.Credit:Justin McManus

Dr Fiona Macdonald, of RMIT’s Centre for People, Organisation and Work, followed dual-income families in 2020 and found traditional gender roles became more entrenched and mothers’ work was often expected to be done around extra childcare and housework, a “near-impossible task”.

They were more likely to “curb” careers to cope, as fathers in typically higher-earning jobs had their routines protected. This put women at risk of future economic insecurity.

“Inevitably they lost more work [than men] because they pulled away from it because they couldn’t cope, they also didn’t apply for promotions,” said Dr Macdonald, a member of the national Work + Family Policy Roundtable and lead author of the study Women, work, care and COVID.

“The overwhelming message is of women being expected to do all the flex and stepping back. Women and men both lost work hours, but women overwhelmingly lost work hours as a result of stepping back themselves because they just could not manage it all.

“Men had studies with doors that shut because they were used to having full-time work; women [more likely to be in part-time jobs] stayed at the dining room table or in the kitchen.”

Men in the study had increased their contributions to household and family loads but often did so with far less disruption to their paid work, as theirs was the primary income.

Mothers who had been planning to rebuild careers after going part-time had decided against upping their days or applying for more senior jobs due to the clash with extra home duties.

Dr Macdonald said the study highlighted “the whole one-and-a-half incomes model relies on women being everything to everybody in a crisis, and shows just how precarious that is: and how precarious it makes women’s economic independence.”

Two studies have found women juggling work and extra home duties during the pandemic are curbing careers to cope.

“It only takes one thing to go wrong in a family and the women end up wearing it. It exposes the kind of thing that must go on in families all the time, but it doesn’t get exposed.”

The study noted that “often … they reluctantly stepped away from opportunities in the face of time pressures and the physical or psychological strains of increased household and parenting loads”.

Of greater consequence for mothers than reduced hours now was long-term lost opportunity for career development.

Gendered arrangements in families, and in workplaces where women working part-time were often not promoted to more senior jobs, “adds up to significant potential for risk” for their economic independence and equality.

“Women both took on, and were left to pick up, the bulk of additional work in families, both visible and invisible work. While working remotely, women managed most of the homeschooling, domestic work and care, and they organised the household so everyone else could get their work done.

“This was incredibly stressful for some women who, towards the end of 2020, were exhausted from trying to meet their work responsibilities, manage remote schooling and their children’s care and welfare and keep their households running.”

Women struggled to feel they could do a good job while working remotely and doing extra at home, and lost boundaries in time and space between their work and home lives.

“A clear pattern in the majority of households was towards the strengthening of traditionally gendered divisions of parenting and household labour … it was often easier for men to separate work from family and household responsibilities.”

Economic vulnerability increased more for women than men and there is some evidence women’s health has been adversely affected, with Victorian women “particularly vulnerable to poor health, anxiety and restless sleep”.

Sydney University professor of employment, Marian Baird, said a study about to be published by academics including the Women and Work Research Group made similar findings.

It followed work trajectory of Australian and Canadian professional and academic knowledge workers during the pandemic and found “women have picked up that mental and physical load in the home and looked after children … and it has caused them to reprioritise tasks.”

They dropped work that would lead to promotion because “it took up too much mental space they didn’t have”. “We are concluding there is a long COVID career effect,” said Professor Baird.

To prevent economic equality slipping, affirmative action programs were necessary post-pandemic, to adjust key performance indicators for promotion, offer women whose careers had slowed the necessary training and opportunities to catch up.

Business owner and mother of four Sara O’Callaghan, who ran two event venues with her husband before the pandemic, said the only way to cope with the extra home load was to “lower your standards” at home, which led to maternal guilt.

Though the business had to shut one of its two wedding venues, she sometimes starts at 4am to manage the work and home load. Due to staff lay-offs, she has reverted from high-level work as a director and manager for Bursaria Fine Foods to duties including cooking and dishwashing. Her husband is also helping with homeschooling

Of the pandemic’s impact on her career path, she said: “I have to do everyone else’s jobs, really I’m starting from scratch.”

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in National

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article