Working Moms Hit Hard by COVID-19 Closures

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted daily life for nearly every American, but working mothers are facing some especially difficult challenges

Because of the widespread closures due to COVID-19, many women are either losing their income or suddenly working from home — all while their kids are out of school and expected to complete online assignments — something that generally doesn’t happen without supervision by a parent.

And it’s the mother who usually takes on that role.

That’s what happened for Liia Ramachandra, CEO of AstaLynx Global & mom of three children ages 11, 5, and 4.

“I have an office in Chicago and in New York, and we have an office in Bangalore in India, where we have 60 people, and in Africa, where we’re just opening in Nigeria as well. So usually I travel a lot,” explained Liia.

Her travel for the global healthcare services company has been grounded by the coronavirus pandemic, which also sent her three kids home from school. Though she and her husband are both executives, the kids have become a much bigger distraction for her than him, even as the coronavirus pandemic thrust her entire family into working and learning from home.

“My husband is amazing; he does a lot, but he’s the president in one of the big companies. So it’s just a lot of work non-stop. We close his door, and the kids usually gravitate towards me, especially the little one comes to me and constantly says, ‘Mommy I want this.”

In households where two parents work full-time, the Pew Research Center says mothers still spend nearly twice as much time on child care than fathers, and that tendency is suddenly exacerbated all over the United States where one or both parents are forced to work at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Whitney Kalka is a Montessori teacher, with a three-year-old daughter and a husband in the healthcare industry.  “He does EEGs, and this week he’s been working 12-hour shifts,” she noted. That means Whitney is on her own to face the daunting task of teaching her Montessori class of first, second and third graders online, while also supervising her preschooler.

“I know it’s gonna be messy because we’ve never done this before,” Whitney admits, “but I know that we are gonna provide the best we can as teachers.”

Like Whitney, 77% of the nation’s 3.7 million teachers are women, and many of them are suddenly working from home as schools close in at least 47 states by late March.

That’s in addition to more than 19 million women in jobs that can be done from home — like management and finance — with many of them switching to remote work as companies take steps to avoid the spread of COVID-19. 

Nicki Anderson is director of a women’s leadership program at Benedictine University who said this sudden switch can be very disconcerting for parents, especially mothers who will likely carry the biggest burden.

“If you’re a working mom and suddenly you’re thrust into this working from home thing, I really encourage everybody to get a schedule down,” said Nicki, a mother of four grown children. “We don’t have to overschedule; we do that anyway. But just the idea of creating a sense of normalcy within this new normal.”

For the nation’s 9.5 million restaurant employees, the new normal is the fear of losing most or all of their income as cities force restaurants to close.

More than half of those workers are women, and many are single parents.

“We’re not always really good at women supporting women, so maybe this is a wonderful opportunity to say, ‘How can I help my neighbor who’s struggling that maybe I didn’t know about before,” suggested Nicki.

She says women are also hit especially hard during a crisis because of the maternal instinct to feel responsible for the health of all family members.

“We tend to internalize and personalize. I think that as mothers we are programmed, it is in our DNA, to take care and to be nurturers,” Nicki said.

Another daunting challenge is faced by mothers who cannot work from home, like those in the healthcare industry, where women hold more than 75% of the jobs.

With kids unexpectedly home from school, some are scrambling to find a nanny as daycare facilities shut down, while others who can’t afford child care are struggling to find family, friends or neighbors to help for free.

The most common health care occupation is nurse, with an average annual salary of $66,000. But the second most common is a nursing, psychiatric or home health aides, who earn $27,000 a year — a salary that isn’t enough to pay for basic living expenses and child care.

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