It's no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially harmful for working women. Not only were many of the hardest-hit industries ones dominated by women, but the disruption to childcare and education meant that hundreds of thousands of women were forced to leave the workforce completely to care for their children.
It's not an exaggeration to say that the pandemic has set back women's progress in the workplace.
Despite all the studies, charts and estimates that support these hard truths, little is actually being done to make sure that mothers don't fall even farther behind.
One artist nailed the frustration that so many of us are feeling over one year after the pandemic began.
"Remember when all the schools and daycares closed for like a year and the whole country was like, 'Eh, we'll just let the women deal with that'? I'm gonna be mad about that for a *while*" tweeted Aubrey Hirsch.
Remember when all the schools and daycares closed for like a year and the whole country was like, “Eh, we’ll just l… https://t.co/GJBy8fQy9q
— Aubrey Hirsch (@aubreyhirsch)
The writer and artist is right. In the past year, mothers have been expected to fill all the gaps that the pandemic created. The problem isn't that mothers were expected to care for their children during a crisis—it was that we were expected to do it with virtually no help. Somehow, we had to find a way to keep our careers going while also becoming teachers and taking over round-the-clock care for our kids. We had to make necessary sacrifices, with very little, if any, help from employers, leaders, and communities.
Back in December, Hirsch published a comic on Vox explaining how the pandemic is forcing women out of the workforce. Half a year later, it's as relevant as ever.
"At the start of the pandemic, a shocking 2,651,000 women left the workforce, sending the women's unemployment rate skyrocketing," she wrote. "Many women eventually returned to work. But a huge number are leaving their careers entirely to fill gaps in childcare. This calls into question whose time we value, and whose we see as dispensable."
Hirsch described having to take a step back in her own career in order to care for her children during the pandemic. Her story was far from extreme—she cited a study from the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion that revealed of the adults who weren't working because of caregiving obligations, 80% were women.
She also explained how the situation is even worse for women of color. Latina mothers are over 1.5 times more likely than white mothers to be responsible for their family's childcare and housework. Black mothers are twice as likely to be responsible for their families.
"The career hits that women are taking now are almost certain to have dramatic effects on workplace equity moving forward," she wrote.
"Women's disproportionate responsibilities at home were already a major contributing factor to their lower pay and difficulty advancing at work. Now men will have an even greater advantage when it comes to increased opportunities, promotions, and raises."
"The reverberations of this pandemic will be felt by women for years to come."
Hirsch ended her comic with a call to action. Just as during the pandemic, it was up to us to solve the massive caregiving crisis in America, so too will it be up to us to fight for recognition, opportunities, and pay.
"So, like our mothers and grandmothers before us, we'll have to summon the strength to fight our way out again."
Hirsch spoke with Motherly about her viral comic.
"My main message for readers is just that these problems are systemic," she said. "I've gotten a LOT of messages from men saying 'This didn't happen in MY family,' and that's great! But you can't argue with the data that tells us, overwhelmingly, that this is a gendered issue. It's true that more men need to step-up within their own families, but the solutions to these problems also need to be system-wide. This is not a problem that will be fully solved by individual actions."
She again called for mothers to advocate for themselves.