Mid-September marks a full six months of quarantine in Ontario as workers who would typically work in an office continue to work from home. Some consequences of this new arrangement have certainly been welcome. With commutes eliminated, workers can sleep in later and enjoy the flexibility of running occasional errands around or near the home. The shift to working from home also enables workers to spend more time with their family and pets. Of course, this oversimplified portrayal of work-from-home life obscures the glaring fact that this comes to the detriment of women. Mid-September might mark six months of quarantine but late September also signifies Canada’s Gender Equality Week, a particularly opportune time to discuss how the pandemic exacerbates gender inequality.
According to the American Enterprise Institute, women have carried a larger portion of household responsibilities compared to their male partners during the pandemic. In addition to working from home, women are expected to balance additional duties of cooking, cleaning, taking care of children, and helping children with schoolwork. The stress of carrying this workload is compounded by the fact that external childcare remains expensive or now operates at reduced capacities due to Covid-19. It’s no wonder then that the unequal juggling of household tasks leaves little time for women to practise self-care, leading to higher rates of burnout that have no end or relief in sight. Long-term, this exhaustion jeopardizes families’ economic outlook as the concept of dual-income families becomes less feasible and sustainable.
Meanwhile, men have disproportionately benefited from the unequal distribution of household responsibilities and by extension, the conveniences of working from home. A recent survey jointly facilitated by Qualtrics and Boardlist found that 70% of men considered their productivity to have increased since the beginning of the pandemic compared to 41% of women. Similarly, a Boston Consulting Group survey found that on average, women spend 15 hours more than men on unpaid domestic labour every week. While working from home has yielded some welcome advantages, the degree that people within the same household benefit from this new reality are split along gender lines.
This gender inequality won’t get resolved overnight as it is unfortunately entrenched in traditional norms and gender roles. In our roles as coworkers, family members, and friends we can call out these imbalances to start the discourse and gradually shift norms, if we feel comfortable and safe doing so. Employers can also make some of women’s unequal household responsibilities more manageable by drafting new policies related to working from home. For instance, they can institute and enforce a company-wide ban on lunchtime meetings or meetings past a certain hour so people can spend time with their family or run necessary errands. Employers could also offer to subsidize childcare to alleviate childcare responsibilities that are often placed solely on women. Likewise, organizations should educate employees to be more kind to and forgiving of employees with young children who may interrupt teleconferencing calls.
This Gender Equality Week in Canada, take time to acknowledge and reflect on the ways that the pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities, especially for households where both parents work. Similarly, if you are in a position to draft organizational policies or directly help employees who may be negatively impacted by remote working arrangements, your actions could offer some critical support and relief to women workers.