Aug 25, 2020 - 1:00pm

The State of Working Women: Marking a Milestone Even as the Pandemic Takes New Toll


Vice President, Government Affairs & Managing Director of Public Affairs; Executive Director, Women

Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Senior Vice President of Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

This week we celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the constitutional right to vote. Although this amendment did not grant all women the right to vote, specifically those that are non-white, it is a hallmark moment in history. It’s also proof that women have triumphed in difficult circumstances before and we can again. We need that reminder now more than ever amid a sobering avalanche of news in recent weeks about the impact of the pandemic on working women.

Study after study is now confirming what many of us already know and feel – while juggling work and childcare responsibilities is tough on all parents, women are bearing the greatest share of this increased COVID-19 related load.

A major challenge is childcare – or lack thereof – during a global pandemic. A U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation survey finds more than 1 in 5 working parents aren’t sure they’ll fully return to their pre-pandemic work situation because of the challenges of juggling childcare and their careers amid the increase in virtual schooling and decreased availability of childcare providers.

When decisions have to be made between home and work, women are the ones who tend to put their careers on hold to care for children. For single parents – the childcare challenges are even more extreme. Action is needed on multiple fronts to help women navigate these pandemic-induced pressures. Here are three ways we can help.

Push for political change

There are several bills pending in Congress right now that could have a very real, positive and substantial impact on working mothers. Among those the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is currently supporting are:

  • The Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act of 2019, which seeks to expand gender and racial diversity among board of director leadership.
  • The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which establishes a pregnant worker's right to a reasonable accommodation.
  • The Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in a wide variety of areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system. 

Additionally, the U.S. Chamber believes that Congress must act in a targeted and timely manner to find bipartisan and bicameral solutions during this pandemic, specifically when it comes to childcare.

Become aware of the wide-ranging impact of childcare challenges

If you are in business, childcare should now be one of your top concerns whether you and your family personally need it or not. A U.S. Chamber Foundation survey found that 40% percent of employers are not confident their workforce will return to work citing health and safety, and childcare as almost equivalent concerns of their workforce.

In order for employers to both retain current employees and attract new talent, they must understand the demands of childcare and find solutions, such as flexible working hours, backup care, or reimbursement for nearby care, to help. External incentives may aide this and spur positive action. A recent U.S. Chamber Foundation survey also found that more than half (51%) of employers would be likely to offer additional childcare assistance to employees if the government provides incentives such as tax benefits or subsidies.

This kind of data is important in guiding the business community forward so, the U.S. Chamber Foundation will continue conducting surveys in the coming months to better understand the impact of the pandemic on childcare as it affects working parents, employers and childcare providers. You can sign up for updates about these surveys and the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s work on early childhood education here.

Women: Tap into the power of your network

Research shows that as women, our networks and inner circles of supporters are critical to our success, and that is especially true during times of crisis. In 2019, the U.S. Chamber launched Women Taking The Lead, a nationwide program to provide a platform to showcase top talent, help women leaders create and strengthen a network of allies to champion their work and provide opportunities for professional growth and development.

Now more than ever, women need to belong to an effort that champions them and their work and that is what this group is doing. During the pandemic, we have held weekly virtual meetings where we have highlighted 17 women-owned small businesses and learned how they are juggling, pivoting, surviving and thriving during these difficult times. These weekly meetings have not only allowed us to support women-owned small businesses, but has also allowed for our network of leaders to come together, learn, and connect as we all work to navigate COVID-19 challenges.

Women Taking the Lead has an exciting lineup of fall events. To join our growing network and keep up with programming and events, please find more information here

As we mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment it is important not only to celebrate how far we have come as a nation, but also recognize the work that still needs to be done. COVID-19 has highlighted the disparities in our society that still exist and the need for gender equality and parity. Focusing on childcare solutions is a good place to start in closing this gap – it is good for business and it is time.

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About the Authors

About the Author

ashleywilson; ashleymiller
Vice President, Government Affairs & Managing Director of Public Affairs; Executive Director, Women

Ashley Wilson is a legislative strategist with deep knowledge of both politics and process, sharpened over a 20-year career in Washington, D.C. She earned her stripes on Capitol Hill, where she is well-known by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle for her ability to build bridges, navigate choppy political waters, and get the job done.

About the Author

Cheryl Oldham Headshot
Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Senior Vice President of Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Cheryl A. Oldham is vice president of education policy at the U.S.