Wearing Multiple Hats: Working women and the COVID-19 pandemic

By Oreoluwa Ojewuyi and Diksha Mittal

Mother, daughter, caregiver, wife, and friend- society expects women to wear multiple hats. These expectations often leave women to deal with child rearing, their professional careers, and taking care of the home. 

The challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic have only amplified what society expects from women and what women expect from themselves. 

Due to COVID-19, roughly, one in four women are being forced to consider stepping back in their jobs or leaving the workplace due to extra household responsibilities. This could mean that up to 2 million women will leave corporate jobs, according to the 2020 Women in the Workplace study, co-authored by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org.

Advertisement

Betsy Gieselman is a high school english teacher at Carbondale Community High School, and mother to a 4-year-old named Nora. Gieselman said there is an implicit expectation of women to take care of the home and juggle their professional careers, and moms are often expected to act as default parents. 

“There is this idea in the minds of men and women of, oh well women do that kind of work of buying the gifts and setting up birthday parties and all those little things that don’t get recognized. I think Covid had made it so couples take on work that they hadn’t done before,” Gieselman said. “I know men who because of their jobs have been able to stay home, where maybe the woman couldn’t. The men assumed more nurturing, teaching roles than they might have otherwise.”

Gieselman said her situation is unique because her husband never applied gender roles to their relationship and parenting style noting that he does the majority of the housework and helped ensure that their daughter got accustomed to remote learning. As an educator Gieselman has also had to assimilate herself to new methods of teaching and help her students with their new education and the impacts that COVID-19 has had on their life.  

 “If kids are in class you can look at them and say ‘Okay there’s something wrong, this kid looks kind of down today. I’m going to just check in and have like a two minute conversation that can make all the difference in the world,’” Gieselman said. “Well, when you’re looking at a blank zoom screen. You don’t know what’s going on with someone. There were a lot of conversations just kind of encouraging kids and giving them suggestions on how to manage their stress and time,” Gieselman said.  

Kristen Barber, an Associate Professor of Sociology at SIU who is researching on women’s work during the pandemic, said she is currently working on a paper that shows women reported doing almost 10 times more housework than their male partners even without kids, women have been picking up the growing household demands that come with being at home all the time. 

 Barber said working mothers have been scrambling to balance work with dependents of different age groups at home. 

“Many kids have been in a virtual classroom over the years, too, with some older kids doing well with distance education,” Barber said. “And for little kids, learning online means mothers usually become a sort of a secondary teacher, managing kids’ online engagement.”

Advertisement

  Some parents who find their kids don’t learn well with distance education, are unmotivated, or suffer depression from social isolation. This is a lot for parents to manage, Barber said.

“For professional moms, research shows that the compression of work and home has taken a toll on their mental well-being, and that moms are leaving their jobs or trying to go part time,” Barber said. “And as we know from pre-COVID-19 scholarship, flexible work does really work for moms. It usually just means pushing work hours to nights and weekends because kid care takes up waking hours.” 

She said her research on academic faculty who were parents early on in the pandemic shows that parents were especially burdened while trying to relaunch their courses online, with some working from their cars while their kids slept in the backseats. They worked in chaos, with toys everywhere, crayon on the walls, and kids with constant needs. 

“When lockdown went into effect in March of 2020, my 5-year-old moved online, as did my own work. And I found myself pleading with my kindergartener to sit in front of the computer, participate, and do her work,” Barber said. “At the same time, I had a 1-year-old who needed to be cared for, two dogs that needed walks, and my own work to do. This is on top of a home that was never clean. My work hours dwindled, and I had to leave some meaningful work behind me including bowing out from Directing WGSS here at SIU.”

 Gielselman said her husband has been working from home as a social worker throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and has helped their daughter with her remote learning. 

“That has been really fortunate because we kept our daughter remote for first grade. He’s actually taken on the role of support for remote schooling, and I’m grateful that he was able to work from home because if not, that would have been pretty challenging to kind of figure that out,” Gieselman said. 

 Scarlett Rodriguez, an international student worker in the Communications Department said women in her country had to quit their jobs or find ways to make things work in order to take care of their children.  

“In my country, it has not yet been possible to find a solution for the past school year and the next year’s school reintegration is still under discussion. I think this has put a lot of stress on parents and school staff,” Rodriguez said. 

 Gieselman said being a teacher has had its fair share of complications due to the pandemic. She said the pandemic has made everyone more aware of what goes into child rearing and teaching. 

“In March of last year, when everyone was suddenly having to teach their kids at home there was a great respect for teachers, and an understanding. People understood that teachers wear a lot of hats. They teach social emotional skills, they teach math, writing, reading and science and that’s amazing, They do impossible things,” Gieselman said. 

Giselman said teachers are expected to pick up societal needs of students and occasionally act as counselors to their students. Giselman said women in the education field are often viewed as nurturers by their students. 

“I think students sometimes have that perception, you know like that you’re like a mom figure and so you’re someone they can come to. I think as women, especially as mothers, we have our own nurturing skill set. Sometimes you have an intuition that there is something going on in the kid’s life and so you might put that expectation on yourself,” Gieselman said, 

Gieselman said this pressure is not only societal but it comes from within as well.

“I think there’s added pressure that is put on by others, but also by ourselves to be perfect,, to balance it all. I know I put that pressure on myself,” Gieselman said. 

Barber drew attention to the need for concern about what this means for moms and working women, who have lost jobs at higher rates than men during the pandemic, and who feel pushed out of the workforce by a lack of formal organizational support and pulled home due to the demands of unequal care work. 

 “Without institutional support, colleges and universities are bound to see a loss of women academics, especially those who are parents. This will reverberate through the academy for years, and lead to a loss of research,” Barber said. 

 Gieselman said that although COVID has made it difficult to maintain connections with friends or students that it has also made her appreciate other things. 

“We all appreciate little things, more and also, you know, but also remember you know sometimes we just need to say no it’s slow down to that there’s value in having that time we stepped back,” Gieselman said.

Barber said SIU should take strong measures to protect and support women employees during the pandemic. 

“They [SIU] can earmark grant money for women and parent academics, extend and create flexible application deadlines, decrease service demands, extend tenure timelines, move conference travel money to childcare subsidies (since at home care is particularly expensive, and kids who used to be in school are now home), and organize collaborative research groups so women can continue to research and publish in a way that is more sustainable,” Barber said. They need teaching and research assistant assignments, and they need their universities to create university-level, gender-focused committees that have a real seat at the table.”  

 Staff reporter Diksha Mittal can be reached at [email protected].  Reporter Ore Ojewuyi can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @odojewuyi

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

Advertisement