It's been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the United States, and the virus has impacted many aspects of people’s lives.
The virus sparked widespread job losses and furloughs that continue into 2021, while many of those who retained their jobs had to cope with COVID-related shutdowns, and the rise of work-from-home.
It's been a particularly difficult balancing act for working parents, who have had to juggle work with their familial responsibilities as they either pulled their children from daycare, or their school-age children were suddenly learning remotely as schools shifted to distance learning models.
In many cases, it has been the mother who has had to shoulder much of the burden of the additional care-taking responsibilities, and as a result they're facing the prospect of falling behind in an already competitive working world.
Kadi Kaelin is 35 years old and works in the craft beer industry. Between her husband owing two restaurants and their four-old daughter, their household is busy. Before the pandemic, she had her daughter in daycare. That all changed when the virus started spreading in Minnesota.
“Having a career has always been something I had been excited about. It’s something I take a lot of pride in. When the pandemic started and everything was completely uprooted. That was a really hard thing to accept,” Kaelin said.
Due to her daycare facility not implementing safety measures, Kadi and her husband chose to pull their daughter from daycare. However, that meant someone had to care for her. Working from home and trying to keep a four-year engaged was not easy.
“Up until March I was pretty intense about screen time; I don’t want my kid to sit in front of a TV, but I had no choice. So, it’s like here’s some candy, some gum, I have to sit in this meeting and watch this dinosaur show,” she said."
When Kadi’s company announced they were going to have to enact some layoffs, she asked her employer if she could cut her hours. Though it wasn’t an easy decision, she knew it was one that had to be made.
“It’s like balancing a lot of plates and trying to be a good citizen and neighbor and volunteer and do a lot of other things. It always feels like you’re being pulled in a million different places,” she said.
Kadi is not alone, she’s one of many working women who have reduced their hours or left the workforce since the pandemic. According to a report by the National Women’s Law Center, nearly 2.2 million women have left the workforce since February.
In Minnesota, the same statistics can be seen when it comes to layoffs affecting women via a University of Minnesota study: COVID-19’s Unequal impacts on Minnesota workers: A Race and Gender Lens.
"Women, on the whole, were laid off more than men that’s clear in the data,” said Christina Ewig, Professor of Public Affairs and Faculty Director at the Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy.
For Kadi, cutting her hours also meant she had to work hard to prove she was still committed.
She says besides her and another female employee, there were no other mothers within her company. Kadi said although her employer was understanding. She felt she was falling behind.
"I’m grateful I was able to have my job, to keep a job, but at the same time, it feels like it threw me back. I’m like down a few notches on the ladder and I have to work a lot harder,” Kaelin said.
Climbing the career ladder is something everyone wants but is that goal attainable for working mothers? It’s a question that each woman has to navigate with the resources they have available to them. Kadi says she knows her experience is different and not everyone is in the same shoes.
“If you are working all the time you would be pegged as not present as a mother and if you were home all the time you’re not contributing to the family,” Kadi said as she reflects on the norms placed by society.
Kadi is now back to working full time and her daughter is in school. She’s still trying to juggle working from home and getting as much done before her daughter gets home.
"My daughter is in a private school now, which is like a lot more expensive. The hours are 9 to 3:45 and so I have to get as much done in this short window and after that, it’s hard to keep working, but I keep working,” she said.
The whole experience has left her reflecting on the future and where things go.
“I hope that you writing articles like this and other people bringing some of this stuff to light hopefully shows employers what’s happening and how hard this is for half of your job force,” Kaelin said.