“Working women have now lost more than three decades of labor force gains in less than a year” -Maria Aspen, Fortune Magazine
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to illuminate inequities many face in society that otherwise are sadly ignored, explained away, or glossed over. As seen in recent articles and news stories, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted women in the workforce. Family structures have been upended, causing families to make difficult financial and career decisions to address childcare and health concerns. It will take researchers years to deeply examine the roots of the disproportionate impact and equally important, the longer term implications from this employment loss.
As Thomas (2016) stated in her book, Because of Sex, the glacial process of cultural change can hinder implementation of even the most progressive legislation. The COVID-19 pandemic asks all of us to confront aspects of our lives that we have otherwise accepted or been apathetic towards changing. As the world closed down and we retreated to our homes, we had the time and space to consider several questions:
Why does the culture of work override opportunities to spend time with family, take vacations, and lead a more balanced work-home life?
As the rhetoric has shifted from first praising teachers to demanding teachers return to the school building, we are left to wonder, do schools serve employers or do employers drive the school week? Why a five day work week? Many districts have shown strong learning experiences for students on a reduced week schedule. Again, is it schools or employers that drive the school week?
School leaders have an amazing opportunity to capitalize on this moment and transform schools to better address current gender inequities. As a school leader, there are several aspects that can be immediately implemented to address both student and employer concerns. District leadership can collaborate with community partners and local universities to design and implement the following:
- Create flexible leave policies to address health and childcare needs for employees
- The school district as an employer can take a stand to prioritize the health and wellness of its employees. Creating policies that support employees and the health of their families reduces the burden typically placed on women in the workforce to bear the caregiving responsibilities within the household. This may lead to an overall healthier experience for all involved. Instead of sending kids to school having taken Tylenol before leaving, or choosing to report to work sick in order to save sick days for family members, school districts can create a more flexible structure for sick leave.
- Fund and provide resources for high schools to expand early childhood programs for employees to bring their non-school aged children to school for childcare.
- Benefits include:
- Reduced cost for childcare for employees and maintain staff in the workforce
- Provide students with authentic work experiences for their resumes
- Staff may connect and participate in school functions more frequently due to a reduced commute to find affordable childcare if it is located in the district’s high school(s).
- Partner with local businesses and community organizations to offset the cost of childcare for both non-school aged children and after school childcare for students.
- Benefits include:
- Reduced cost for childcare for employees and maintains staff in the workforce.
- Increased staff participation and connection to school activities due to a reduced commute to find affordable childcare.
- Partner with community organizations and local colleges and universities for scholarship programs and cohort models to support higher level degrees, administrative degree programs, and executive coaching programs.
- One way schools can combat the inequity of women in leadership positions in education is through providing direct resources of time, funding, and partnerships with universities.
- Investing in professional development within the school district to cultivate leaders from within the ranks can build and sustain a positive organizational culture. This can lead to closing the gender gap in who holds leadership positions within the school system.
The lift is heavy and multifaceted. It will take the collective commitment of many intersecting groups in society to bring necessary change.
Aspan, M. (2021, February 5). Another 275,000 women dropped out of the U.S. labor force in January. Fortune. https://fortune.com/2021/02/05/covid-unemployment-rate-january-jobs-report-2021-jobless-job-loss-us-economy-working-women/.
Thomas, G. (2016). Because of sex : One law, ten cases, and fifty years that changed American women’s lives at work. St. Martin’s Press.