Is COVID disproportionately impacting women in the workplace?

by | Oct 5, 2020 | Covid-19, Public Relations

Women are taking on greater responsibility as a result of COVID, and they also feel less supported than their male counterparts in terms of flexibility and understanding from their employer, according to new research from employee listening platform Perceptyx.

According to a nationwide survey of 1,500 working adults, nearly 55 percent of women report that they carry 75 percent or more of the responsibility for children during the workday, compared with only about 41 percent of men.

While women are doing more, however, they report slightly less understanding and flexibility from their managers than male caregivers report

For men and women with 100 percent of the caregiving responsibility, 68 percent of women say they have understanding managers, compared to 93 percent of men.

Most caregivers are experiencing difficulty while having children at home, with 60 percent of parents reporting at least a moderate level of distraction, and 54 percent noting their productivity will be affected to at least a moderate degree with children learning from home. More work and less support, however, is impacting women’s productivity less than that of men. Interestingly, female caregivers providing at least 75 percent of the care during the workday report less distraction and productivity loss than their male counterparts who provide less than 25 percent of the childcare per day.

“There are a number of reasons why women may be more productive than men when faced with these new responsibilities; however, the heart of the issue here isn’t that women are managing, but how organizations are not addressing the new reality for working women,” said Emily Killham, MA, client data researcher at Perceptyx, in a news release. “While women may be maintaining their productivity, they are receiving less support from their manager than men with less caregiving responsibility. As a result, other areas such as mental health and loyalty to their organization are steadily declining, which will have a lasting impact on their place within an organization and the larger corporate environment.”

Many organizations are uncertain how to best support their employees during COVID

Perceptyx asked respondents about several benefits organizations have tested to support caregivers and increase retention, such as formal flex time and assistance with childcare. Most of these benefits, Perceptyx found, made no difference in organizational loyalty for either men or women. While offering extra time off did help bind men to the organization, female caregivers didn’t report any improvement in engagement as a result of extra time off. More important to women than time off was empathy; women surveyed were two and a half times more likely to stay with the organization for the next year if their manager was understanding about their unique needs during this time. When managers were understanding, female caregivers were 17 percent less likely to say they needed to make a change in the next six months.

With that said, a full third of female respondents said they would need to make a change to their current working arrangement in the next six months, and 23 percent have already looked for a new job with more flexible or fewer hours because of their need to provide care to their kids at home during the pandemic. Women are looking for more from their employers, who will need to rise to the occasion to ensure talent is retained.

Meanwhile, according to Killham, “Men receive more understanding and support from their manager, yet are less productive than women who are managing more, signaling a real gap in trust from employers when it comes to men and women in the workplace. While this has been an issue for years, the COVID pandemic is bringing additional light to the differential treatment of men versus women in the workplace. By addressing these issues now, companies have an opportunity to shift the way women are treated well into the future. If they don’t, organizations risk taking many steps backwards in terms of gender equality, which has the potential to make it even harder for working women to get a leg up than it is today.”

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter