Breanna Reeves |
“At the onset of the pandemic, I was seven and a half months pregnant. I was pretty much out there, pregnant with baby number three and going up and down stairs from my computer to where I had the kids set up in the living room,” said Marla Matime.
Marla, 37, is a mother of three, a spouse, and Chief Operating Officer of Voice Media Ventures in Riverside, CA. She was accustomed to working from home and conducting business remotely, but when the pandemic forced schools to close, life at home became more challenging.
“It was very stressful — very, very. It was hard. I remember days crying because the work was so much,” Marla explained. At the time, Marla was also working on a big Census 2020 campaign at work.
Marla has a seven-year-old child, a five-year-old child and a one-year-old child. In April 2020, her children were on Spring Break, but her oldest child was in kindergarten and completing school online via Zoom.
“So after spring break, the school districts had determined that they would do distance learning. So, having to manage my workload plus assist my children with computers, like being on Zoom (and) dialing in to see their teacher and their classmates — it was extremely challenging,” Marla explained.
Marla isn’t alone. According to research by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization, the majority of women between the ages of 18 and 64 work.
“One in four working women, 15.5 million, has a child under the age of 14 at home. Some of these women work part time or have a family member on whom they can rely to provide supervision for their young and school-aged children. But more than 10 million (17 percent of all working women) rely on childcare and schools to keep their children safe while they work,” the article noted.
Challenges of Mothers Working from Home
COVID-19 has called attention to the challenges women face as significant contributors to the workforce and as mothers, both of which can be full-time jobs.
A 2020 Women in the Workplace report published by McKinsey and Company indicated women have taken on substantial loads in terms of being caregivers and balancing their professional workload.
“During Covid-19, women — and mothers in particular — are taking on an even heavier load. Mothers are more than three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for most of the housework and caregiving. In fact, they’re 1.5 times more likely than fathers to be spending an extra three or more hours a day on housework and childcare — equivalent to 20 hours a week or half a full-time job,” according to the report.
Although Marla’s mother lives in the home, she’s older and not physically able or technologically adept to help the children with remote learning.
“And so a lot of the heavy lifting fell on me. My husband owns his own company and his work picked up tremendously as well because all of his clients had to shift to working remotely,” Marla said.
Marla’s husband is an Information Technology (IT) professional and spent a lot of time helping his clients transition to working remotely and maintaining production and communication.
After nearly two years in a pandemic, managing remote work and distance learning, Marla feels things are better now. She decided she needs her own creative space to work, so she now has her own office space. Having a workplace away from home allows Marla to set boundaries for herself.
“I wanted to have a place where I could go, work and then come back home and completely shut work out. And I couldn’t do that before getting my own space. So it’s getting a little better,” Marla explained. “I come in, I work, I go home. I still do a little work at home, but it’s not as heavily laden as it was during the midst of the pandemic, like when everything was shut down and you couldn’t really go anywhere except for the grocery store. And even that was a daunting task.”
One important recommendation Marla offered to other working mothers was to set boundaries and carve out time for self-care. Although the pandemic restricted many cosmetic and beauty businesses from opening like nail and hair salons, Marla found other ways to care for herself.
“What I started doing was just going out in nature, being out in the sun, going to the park, walking around the neighborhood,” Marla said. “That really helped me when I was able to find the time to do it, to clear my mind and to de-stress because it was extreme at one point.”
Marla recalled a day where she walked the equivalent of 17 flights of stairs in an eight-hour-period as a result of going back and forth from her children’s Zoom class to her work meetings.
“If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have set some clear boundaries prior to the pandemic. And now looking back, I probably should have put in place some other forms of boundaries while working from home,” Marla said. “Like don’t answer that email at two o’clock in the morning, don’t start working before nine o’clock in the morning if you know that you were up until midnight.”
Impact of Pandemic-related Job Losses on Women
In addition to highlighting the increased workload women have experienced throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 has also precipitated the loss of jobs among women in the workforce. The loss prompted Dr. C. Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), to refer to this era as the “she-cession.”
According to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), “Women lost more than 12.2 million jobs from February 2020 through April 2020, 11.3 million of which were in April alone, which means one month of the pandemic’s losses wiped out nearly an entire decade of women’s job gains since the Great Recession.”
Christine Milsap, 48, was one of the many women who experienced job loss in 2020 after first having her hours cut down to 16 hours a week and then being laid off altogether.
“At that time, it was like chaos kicked in because I was with a company for 19 years. And now it’s like, ‘okay, now what am I going to do?’ I’m the only income,” Christine explained. “So, I had to think fast on my toes and even with my hours being cut with the job, I wasn’t able to collect unemployment because they were saying that, I guess, what I made was more than what I will be able to get in unemployment.”
Christine is a single parent with two sons, one who is 17 years old and the other who is 27 years old. Her youngest son lives with her in Gardena, CA and her eldest son has his own home. After being laid off in September, Christine was able to receive unemployment benefits.
“I’m not going to lie. I didn’t know where the next meal was coming from. I didn’t really reach out to family members because everybody else is going through their own things. So I just tried to do the best that I could with what I had,” Christine said. “It was a lot of going out (and) going to wherever they were giving donations for food. I’ve never — that was a different experience for me because since high school I’ve been working.”
Christine was out of work for two months before she found a job working remotely. Although she was working full time, her new job didn’t pay her half of what she had made before. Christine was also helping her son stay focused while he completed his final year of high school via Zoom.
“That was a struggle in itself, I tell you. So, just trying to figure out the Zoom calls, it just was a big hassle. That was the worst. Not all of the teachers (were equally responsive), like the kids would be sitting online waiting for the teachers to let them in for long periods of time and then you have to call the school and the school would have to get in touch with the teacher. It was tough. And for my son, he does better when he’s in class as opposed to being at home,” Christine said.
Christine explained how difficult it was to get her son to focus and understand the new way of learning. She felt depressed during the pandemic as a result of the uncertainty of COVID-19 being restricted to her home and the stress of balancing working from home and assisting her son.
The NWLC reported, “In mid-January, nearly two in five women (39.3 percent) reported being anxious more than half of the past seven days, compared to 30.2 percent of men. In mid-January, about one in four women (25.3 percent) reported feeling depressed, more than half of the past seven days, compared to 21.1 percent of men.”
“I was depressed. You’re trapped in the house, you can’t go, get out (and) do, you know, your normal things. And it was like a depression I was kind of going through, on top of trying not to put that on my kids as well,” Christine said. “I’ve always had to kind of keep a stone face so my kids aren’t affected by what I’m going through. That was tough.”
Bearing the Burden
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the burden women have experienced throughout the pandemic and even before. Working mothers experience the weight of working full time while also bearing the brunt of childcare duties at home. Although working remotely is a convenient option, working and parenting simultaneously is difficult and taxing on women.
“I would say just try not to stress. Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Christine said when asked what advice she had for women who shared her experiences. “And it was a lot of prayer.”
Black Working Women Face Greater Challenges During COVID
Many women like Christine experienced increased levels of stress throughout the pandemic and among those women, Black women are less likely to feel supported at work during the pandemic, according to the Women in the Workplace Report.
Before the onset of COVID-19, Black women had different workplace experiences than their non-Black colleagues. Black women are more likely to experience a wider range of microaggressions at work and are less likely to say their managers advocated new opportunities for them.
Additionally, the effects of the pandemic were not the only challenges Black women faced. Continued instances of racial violence throughout the U.S. also took an emotional toll on them.
“Black women are almost twice as likely as women overall to say that they can’t bring their whole selves to work and more than 1.5 times as likely to say they don’t have strong allies,” the report noted.
Unsurprisingly, a survey by the think tank Future Forum found 97 percent of U.S. Black workers who were surveyed want to continue to work remotely or become hybrid workers who split their time between working from home and working from the office. Only three percent of Black workers wanted to return to the office full time.
The research noted Black workers who had workplace flexibility demonstrated “a 64 percent boost in ability to manage stress” and “25 percent improvement in work-life balance.”
As offices begin to re-open, companies must consider the benefits of workplace flexibility for their employees, in addition to centering diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, according to Future Forum.
Support is Available
Women and families in Los Angeles County who are experiencing food insecurity or seeking mental health resources can visit the LA County government site for support. Residents of Riverside County and the Inland Empire can visit UP 2 Riverside for resources.
This story is presented in partnership with the Southern California Black Workers Hub. Essential Stories is a movement-building advocacy campaign created to uplift the voices and experiences of Black workers in California. You are invited and encouraged to follow this link and share your story.
Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at email@example.com or via twitter @_breereeves.