Women are Taking Care of More Than Business

Since the implosion of life as we knew it in March 2020, women have borne the…

Since the implosion of life as we knew it in March 2020, women have borne the brunt of job loss, caregiving, and mounting stay-at-home to-dos during the pandemic. About 1.8 million women left the workforce (by choice or due to layoffs) in America. That’s heights above the number of men who left or were laid off.

“Women were more likely to be employed in the sectors of the economy that experienced greater reductions in employment during the pandemic,” says Wendy Chun-Hoon, the Women’s Bureau director at the U.S. Department of Labor. Industries like retail, service, hospitality, and health care were hit hard. Daycare closures and fully or partially virtual schooling added pressure on the home front. “Even prior to the pandemic, mothers typically spent about twice as much time as fathers engaged in childcare,” Chun-Hoon says.

Women have also picked up the slack at home: cleaning, cooking, and serving as general operations director of the fam. “What’s different is that during the pandemic, women also added other responsibilities, such as being teachers to their children and nurses for their families,” says May Thao-Schuck, vice president of career and professional development at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. “This is true especially for communities of color where women are also responsible for relatives and community members, on top of their immediate family.”

But this isn’t just a pandemic problem. Sure, it exacerbated the hefty burden on women’s shoulders— but it only emphasized the differing loads already present.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that in 2019, mothers spent fewer hours on paid work than fathers due to caregiving and household responsibilities and were more likely to work part time due to childcare problems. Beyond children, women are also the primary caregivers for aging parents. Nearly two-thirds of dementia caregivers in the U.S. are female—that’s about 10 million women.

“Women—no matter how you slice it—are disproportionately responsible for childcare, eldercare, and home responsibilities. And now all of those worlds are crashing,” says Shareen Luze, head of culture and field experience at RBC Wealth Management-U.S.

“While the industry and occupation accounted for some of the disparities in job losses, it didn’t explain the overall higher than expected job loss for women and Black men.”—May Thao-Schuck, St. Catherine University

The Local Lens

During the first two months of the pandemic, 650,000 Minnesotans applied for unemployment insurance, reported the University of Minnesota’s Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy. More women than men make up that early pandemic total, says Thao-Schuck. “While the industry and occupation accounted for some of the disparities in job losses, it didn’t explain the overall higher than expected job loss for women and Black men,” she says.

In March, Minnesota state representatives—including high-powered working mom Peggy Flanagan—gathered to discuss boosting female employment as we emerge from the pandemic. They flagged childcare as a major factor in why women are not readily reentering the workforce.

“The most obvious answer is that jobs offering higher wages will attract workers—men or women,” says Chun-Hoon. “It’s pretty difficult for a working mom, for instance, to justify working at a job that pays her barely more than what she must pay in childcare.”

Even before COVID, women were making 79 cents for every dollar men made, according to the 2020 Status of Women and Girls in Minnesota. And while Minnesota leads the nation in female workforce participation, women are concentrated in low-wage occupations, and almost 60 percent of those working women are paid at or below minimum wage, says Thao-Schuck.

What Women Want

To check the boxes on women’s wish lists, good (affordable!) childcare systems must be put into place, Thao-Schuck says, and benefits packages need to be appealing enough to offset the costs and time constraints that come with teeter-tottering family and career. “Women need parental leave and paid sick time to care for their families, since many have dual roles,” she says. “The paid parental and paid sick time also allow men to participate more easily in leaving work to care for their children.”

But more than good benefits, workplaces need to cultivate supportive atmospheres through mentorship, networking groups, and advancement resources such as tuition reimbursements, Thao-Schuck suggests.

“It’s pretty difficult for a working mom, for instance, to justify working at a job that pays her barely more than what she must pay in childcare.” —Wendy Chun-Hoon, U.S. Department of Labor

Remote work flexibility, schedule flexibility, and paid family leave are key elements for attracting and retaining female employees, Chun-Hoon notes. “For workers in frontline occupations and industries where remote work is not an option, pay and benefits packages to help guarantee family economic security and well-being will be powerful retention incentives.”

Bigger Benefits

Answering the call, two national players with local headquarters have stepped up their benefits to back up their female workforce.

Target instituted paid leave, quarantine pay, and free virtual health care and mental health resources for its employees in 2020.

“We also make sure that team members have the time they need to take care of themselves and their families, whether that’s through our paid family leave, other leaves of absence, or paid time off,” says Lauren Frank, PR representative for Target. And when helping hands are needed, their backup care program includes discounts on tutoring and education tools and connects families with nannies, childcare centers, and caregivers.

Long before the pandemic took hold, RBC Wealth Management-U.S., headquartered in Minneapolis, restructured its maternity leave pay to account for commission-based employees.

“We don’t want advisors to feel like they can’t take the time off that they need and deserve because of financial limitations,” says Luze.

Today, the maximum amount of pay RBC’s commission-based advisors can earn on leave has been doubled to better reflect their current earnings. Plus, the company offers a whopping 11 weeks of paid maternity leave. And for when mothers return to the office and resume travel, RBC began covering a service called Milk Stork. It provides pre-labeled and postage-paid cooler kits to safely ship or carry breast milk from domestic and international destinations.

Not forgetting the ever-hardworking caregivers, RBC offers four weeks of paid leave in addition to standard PTO for employees who need to care for an immediate family member.

“Women—no matter how you slice it—are disproportionately responsible for childcare, eldercare, and home responsibilities. And now all of those worlds are crashing.” —Shareen Luze, RBC Wealth Management-U.S. 

When schools began closing early in the pandemic, the firm offered 10 days of emergency childcare leave (paid time off to assist kids getting set up in virtual learning and sorting out care options for littles). It later increased that childcare leave to 20 days. And for snow days, school breaks, and unexpected closures, RBC also provides a backup childcare network to all its employees.

Motivated by the growing number of employees with children who reported assisting older family members (known as the “sandwich generation”), RBC extended its backup care network benefit to include adults as well. “We have a whole roster of certified eldercare providers who can assist with home chores, driving responsibilities, and just taking care of elderly parents or family members,” Luze says.

DYK?


While Minnesota leads the nation in female workforce participation, women are concentrated in low-wage occupations—almost 60 percent are paid at or below minimum wage.

When others were worried about losing their jobs in early pandemic days, RBC made a commitment that there would be no pandemic-induced job losses in 2020. It also implemented pay continuation for employees who could not work full time from home—either for childcare reasons or because jobs couldn’t be performed remotely.

Providing a strong benefits package isn’t just important for attracting new employees—it sends a critical message to existing ones, Luze says. “Recruiting shouldn’t stop when you walk in RBC’s doors. We should be recruiting our own employees every single day.”

Though these benefits are available to all employees, Luze says more women than men are taking advantage of the extra benefits offered because COVID has accentuated existing disparities.

“If anything has become more clear during this pandemic,” Luze says, “it’s that human-centered companies and human-centered managers and leaders are the ones that are going to successfully usher their companies and their teams through this.”


This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Mpls.St.Paul Magazine


https://mspmag.com/arts-and-culture/women-taking-care-of-more-than-business/