Pre-Pandemic Workforce Trends
The impact of the pandemic as a societal change agent has been powerful. In fact, nothing in the last few decades has had more influence on the impact of women at work. There are numerous studies implicating the differences in how the pandemic has affected men and women differently over the last two years. In reality, many of these societal/cultural changes started long before the pandemic.
According to a 2019 study of women in the workplace, where 590 companies with over 22 million employees, were followed for 5 years. Two things are clear:
1. Despite progress at a senior level, women remain significantly underrepresented.
2. The step up to manager is the biggest obstacle that women face on their path to leadership.
It is at this lowest rung of the ladder where women are less likely to be promoted to first level manager roles. This is further emphasized when race is combined with gender.
The greatest impact of the pandemic has been its effect on the global workforce, significantly affecting women more than men. In the US, over 3 million women had to drop out of the labor force between 2020 and 2021, according to MoneyWatch.
Working women were disproportionately hit by COVID economic fallout with 30% unemployed by the end of 2020. For this reason, 2021 was coined the year of the "She-Session".
Many service jobs were lost. The hardest hit was hospitality, food service, healthcare and teaching and education. Mostly, low wage jobs where women are disproportionately represented.
Working from Home is a Better Deal for Men
The evidence of the social impact the pandemic has had on women vs. men is a hot topic. The facts point to working from home as far more disruptive to women than men. This is especially true for women with children.
The burden of household tasks increased for women due to children's virtual learning needs significantly blurring the lines for work-life balance for women even further. Because of the change to work from home, there was a significant increase in work/family conflict for women. This resulted in the following impacts:
- Increase in unpaid overtime hours
- More domestic burdens
- Reduced benefits and pay
- Extra time to care for children
What has become evident is that our systems of childcare and school systems don't meet the needs of working mothers.
Women's Health is Suffering
The Work from Home trends offer pros and cons but are disproportionately negative for working women as evidenced by the health impacts.
Women's health issues are most notably and often untreated conditions of hypertension, chronic pain, and heart disease. The common denominator is stress... stress from the factors described above.
An older NIOSH article from 1999, identifies gender-specific work stress, such as sex discrimination, and balancing work and family demands, may have an effect on women workers above and beyond the impact of general job stressors such as job overload and skill under-utilization.
Discriminatory barriers to financial and career advancements have been linked to more frequent physical and psychological symptoms and more frequent doctor visits. The impact of these exposures has aggravated the onset of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, alienation, nausea, and headaches for many women at work.
Fast forward to recent pandemic times and the same situation for women has likely exacerbated these health conditions.
Musculoskeletal Disorders and Women at Work
In 2004/2005, a meta-analysis of 56 studies confirmed that women are at a higher risk of MSDs than men due to biomechanical, physiological and psychological reasons.
Delia Treaster, a researcher in this area stated, "Women are at least two to 11 times more likely to develop an MSDs of the upper extremities compared to men." She also identified significant differences between men and women in terms of predisposition to musculoskeletal problems. This helps to explain why a majority of ergonomic analyses performed in the office are predominately for women.
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