Tet Salva, a program manager at a high-tech company from the San Francisco Bay area, was asked to share her experience during the pandemic as a working mother of four daughters to an audience of 2,000 people leaders at her workplace.
She decided to be honest about the challenges she faced, in an effort to let other working parents know they weren’t alone. Salva shared the push-pull she felt of walking a tightrope between delivering at work at the same high level she always had, while also taking care of increased demands at home with school shut downs. Her eight-year old daughter’s anxiety and depression became amplified during the pandemic. (The pandemic’s impact on children’s mental health is still being studied, but one recent survey out of Germany found that about one child in three is suffering from pandemic-related anxiety or depression).
“One particular episode with my daughter happened right before a meeting I was facilitating,” says Salva. “I can still remember where she was under my desk, crying. I was holding her hand, trying to calm her down. But work doesn’t stop, right? Feeling completely torn, I said, ‘Okay, Mommy has to go into the meeting now.”
After sharing her story, Salva says the number of positive emails and notes she got from the leaders in the audience was “overwhelming.” “I didn't know it was going to impact them so much, but it impacted me negatively after I shared that story,” says Salva. “I was asking for more challenges and higher-level work, and the response was essentially, ‘You have so much on your plate already.’ I wanted to make that decision for myself, because work is the place where I can be ‘me’ and have some influence on the output. The goalposts kept changing on my projects, and it came to the point where I could no longer share my caregiver responsibilities for fear of backlash. The bias is still very much alive for caregivers in the workplace.”
The issue is close to Salva’s heart, who uses her voice as a woman of color, an immigrant, and a caregiver to amplify caregivers in the workplace—particularly caregivers of color—through community, mentorship and conferences as the founder of MomWarrior.
Today, May 5th, is Mother’s Equal Pay Day, and bias and discrimination is evident on a large scale when we look at the data on the wage gap: Mothers working full-time, year-round outside the home are paid 75 cents for every dollar paid to fathers, according to the National Women’s Law Center. The gap widens based on race and ethnicity: Latina mothers are paid 46 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers; Native American mothers are paid 50 cents; Black mothers are paid 52 cents; and white, non-Hispanic mothers are paid 71 cents.
Moreover, mothers make up a disproportionate share of Covid essential workers—yet they are paid only a fraction of what fathers are paid for doing the same work. More than one in four people working as home health aides, personal care aides, and nursing assistants are mothers, and nearly two-thirds of those mothers are mothers of color.
“This data comes from 2019, the latest year we have available, so we don’t yet know how the pandemic will show up in terms of the mother’s wage gap,” says Emily Martin, VP of Education and Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center. “It's possible that the wage gap might even shrink from a data standpoint, because so many jobs were lost and so many low-wage workers were suddenly taken out of the equation. There’s been a lot of challenges for women, but particularly for mothers. Not only did we hit a recession with major job loss—and in particular major job loss in occupations where women are overrepresented—but our entire caregiving infrastructure blew up with about three-days notice. All of the costs of caring for children are costs that women continue to privately disproportionally bear, and it impacts the gender wage gap and women's economic security.”
Covid cost women globally more than $800 billion in lost income in one year. “The pandemic hit Black and Latina women the hardest,” says Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, and organizer of The Marshall Plan For Moms, which is rolling out “The Mom’s Deserve More Than A Flower Store” Mother’s Day campaign and selling a “pay gap bouquet” at the price of $15,000—the average annual amount lost due to the mother’s pay gap.
“Black and Latina women act as their families’ primary or sole breadwinners at higher rates than white women, and we know pandemic shutdowns hit economic sectors that disproportionately employ them the hardest,” says Saujani. “We have to enact policy changes that help them get back on their feet now. But we need to do more than pass new laws—we need to fundamentally change the way we value mothers’ work in this country. We need cultural change that acknowledges and compensates moms for the unpaid and unseen work they do every day.”
The unpaid labor of women helps support the world economy. In fact, a report from Oxfam estimates the value of the time women spent on unpaid care work is worth $10 trillion to the global economy each year.
“Caregiving is work that has mostly been done by women,” says Martin. “When it's been done for pay, it has mostly been done by women of color. It has been undervalued and seen as something natural you do out of love, rather than having a broader economic value that requires skills that should be compensated. The pandemic has made it more indisputable than ever that this isn't just a private family problem; this is a national problem that requires a national solution. It’s more than only the wellbeing of individual parents and children at stake, but also the wellbeing of our economy and the health of our nation.”
Until policy change catches up, men can better support women at home by equally shouldering the caregiving duties. “A big move forward would be for men to step up and help reframe the notion that caregiving is not only a woman's job, but their job as well,” says Salva. In terms of the workplace, Salva believes one of the biggest root causes of the pay gap is lack of access to opportunities. “For leaders with the ability to influence real change, just open the door, give us a chance and give us that access,” she says. “Also, focus on mentoring women who have left the workforce to help them return.”
Businesses can also step up to support caregivers during the pandemic and beyond. “The onus is still on caregivers, as opposed to our employers or the government, to speak up and ask for a change or some time off to take care of ourselves and our families,” says Salva. “I hope this will change. For example, LinkedIn recently gave employees a week off to completely unplug without email to help ease pandemic burnout. If more companies started doing things like that, I think you would see a workforce that is more loyal and that will really show up for you, because you've shown up for them.”
Article originally published in Forbes.