The pandemic has disproportionately affected women. Women have lost more jobs than men: in December, women lost 156,000 jobs, while for men, there was an increase of 16,000 jobs. At the same time, women have taken on more home responsibilities: and, as a new study just found, if only the mother is working remotely, then she takes on the vast majority of domestic labor; by contrast, if only the father is working remotely, then he does not.
As a result of the strain caused by the balancing act between work and home life, women are dropping out of the labor market in droves, threatening to set back women’s gains in the workplace by decades. So what can women do to get back into the post-pandemic work game?
There is an oft-quoted statistic that, when they apply for jobs, women feel they need to meet 100% of the job requirements, while men are more likely to apply if they meet about 60% of the criteria. In fact, as LinkedIn found, while women and men may view the same number of job postings, women are less likely than men to apply for those jobs.
Then, even if they do find a job, women are twice as likely as men to be paid at or below the minimum wage. If women do get a professional job, the proportion of women decreases along the pipeline between entry-level and the C-suite, while the proportion of men increases.
I turned to Dr. Sian Beilock, president of Barnard College and a cognitive scientist – who has also faced the challenges of work-family balance during the pandemic, including home-schooling her daughter – to find out how women can build back better, setting themselves up for equal opportunities and a productive search for jobs, all while safeguarding their mental health.
Dr. Beilock has done ground-breaking research on girls and women and math anxiety, and is the author of the book, Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. Lately she has been thinking about the lessons her research offers women on how to combat anxiety and find success in the post-pandemic world.
- Remember past successes, and use those successes as a basis for future success. Women often fall prey to impostor syndrome, a belief that they are a fraud and their success is undeserved, so focusing on what they have done well in the past should help give them confidence for taking on a new role. Dr. Beilock recommends writing down those successes, as the act of journaling itself can help combat the feelings of anxiety related to imposter syndrome.
- Don’t fixate on minor details, but instead focus on your overall goals. Instead of overanalyzing, focus on the big picture of what you’re trying to do. As Dr. Beilock explains, think about the way you approach walking up and down stairs; if you had to deliberate about each movement (lift foot up, place on next step), it could take you a long time to get down one flight – or you might even fall flat on your face.
- Get used to the stretch – or even failure. As president of Barnard College, Dr. Beilock encourages her students to take challenging courses, even if they are outside the students’ comfort zone. Only with challenges do we grow.
- Learn how to take advice and criticism. Reach out for feedback, and then, don’t get defensive, but take that feedback and use it. Indeed, there is research that women with the strongest abilities “are more averse to, and more strongly influenced by, negative feedback than are men.”
While women can and should take charge of their mental health during this time, individual women don’t bear sole responsibility for making things better. Companies need to begin thinking strategically about how they get women back into the workforce while also supporting them through the challenges they continue to face in balancing home responsibilities with their work.
Indeed, “the best managers see it as their job to acknowledge quiet competence and nurture undiscovered talent, rather than reward the showboats who demand attention,” as June Carbone, the Robina Chair of Law, Science, and Technology at the University of Minnesota, explains. Dr. Beilock notes that employers should want the largest group of people to choose from, or else they might miss talent.