COVID-19: Working Mothers and Women More Heavily Impacted in the Workplace

By Rachel Davis

Principal Associate

A survey undertaken by researchers from IFS and the UCL Institute of Education, funded by the Nuffield Foundation shows that:

  • Mothers are 23% more likely than fathers to have lost their jobs (temporarily or permanently) during the current crisis. Of those who were in paid work prior to the lockdown, mothers are 47% more likely than fathers to have permanently lost their job or quit, and they are 14% more likely to have been furloughed. In all, among those working in February 2020, mothers are now nine percentage points less likely to still be in paid work than fathers.
  • Mothers who are still doing paid work have reduced their paid working hours substantially and by more than fathers. Prior to the crisis, working mothers did paid work in 6.3 hours of a weekday on average; this has fallen by over one-fifth to 4.9 hours. Working fathers’ hours have also fallen, but by proportionally less, from 8.6 hours before the crisis to 7.2 hours now. 
  • Mothers are also far more likely to be interrupted during paid working hours than fathers. Almost half (47%) of mothers’ hours spent doing paid work are split between that and other activities such as childcare, compared with under one-third (30%) of fathers’ paid working hours. Where focused work time is important for performance, gender differences in interruptions and multitasking risk further increasing the gender wage gap among parents.

The Prime Minister has indicated that government advice will change from working from home to returning to work if the workplace is COVID secure from 1 August 2020.

However, many childcare facilities are closed over this summer holiday period and grandparents who would usually assist with childcare are not able due to the social distancing restrictions in place.

 It is obvious that the change in the government’s guidance will impact heavily upon women who are unable to find suitable childcare to enable them to return to the workplace.

Research from Trades Union Congress, a federation of unions, shows that one in four pregnant women and new mums in their survey have experienced unfair treatment or discrimination at work; including being singled out for redundancy or furlough and 71% of new mums surveyed who are planning to return to work in the next three months are currently unable to find childcare to enable them to do.

As companies look to make financial savings which may include making employees redundant those women who are unable to return to work may find themselves more at risk.

Employers should make sure that the steps taken to facilitate employees returning to the office do not have an unjustifiable negative impact on some groups compared to others, for example, those with caring responsibilities.

We can provide advice and assistance regarding making flexible working requests, parental leave and redundancy processes.

For more information, please contact a member of our Employment Team on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.