Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, women, especially, have faced rising challenges in balancing their work lives with their lives at home. 

As reported by the University of Wisconsin Badger Talks, women are taking on more responsibilities in housework and childcare than men. Large numbers of women are even dropping out of the workforce in order to take care of other responsibilities. 

Director of the UW Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium Stephanie Rytilahti said socially constructed gender roles play out in these situations. 

“I think that there are a lot of ingrained gender roles that are still embedded in the distribution of household labor in terms of who is in charge of managing things like keeping track of groceries, keeping track of childcare responsibilities and housework,” Rytilahti said. “I think a lot of those imbalances are being exacerbated by the pandemic.”

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UW Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering Pam Kreeger, along with several co-authors, compiled a list of recommendations for women for balancing responsibilities both professionally and personally during the pandemic.

The list of recommendations begins with just one rule — “there literally are no rules.”

Rytilahti echoed the “no rules” concept. She explained that situations are dependent on the household and the workplace.

“I think it’s really a time when people are trying to think about balance and trying to think about self-care, but I think the pandemic is making that really hard because there’s a lot of people who are working full-time jobs from home,” Rytilahti said. “I don’t think there’s really an easy solution at this point to put themselves first.”

Instead of women feeling the pressure to balance their responsibilities and find equilibrium, Rytilahti suggested some of these responsibilities should be up to workplaces.

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Workplaces need to take a look at their policies regarding parental leave, eldercare leave, childcare facilities and subsidies for childcare, as well as other areas of policy to address these inequities, Ryhilahti said.

“I think a lot of it is workplace adjustments and institutional adjustments,” Rytilahti said. “I definitely think the number one thing is as much flexibility as possible in places where people who are providing caregiving at home are also working full time.” 

Regardless of the pandemic, Rytilahti said she believes this is a necessary, on-going discussion.

She said workplaces and institutions need to continue addressing these issues moving forward beyond the pandemic.

“Working mothers in specific were struggling before, so I think also workplaces can take this as a moment to reassess and think about sustainability models in terms of how to support working families in general,” Rytilahti said.