We know women are being forced out of the workforce during the pandemic. In fact, there are 1.2 million parents who have left the workforce since right before the public health crisis started in February, with the vast majority of those leaving being women. This will set women back, companies back, and our economy back.
The fact that women still shoulder the majority of the caregiving responsibilities despite a majority of us being the breadwinner is a huge factor underlying women being pushed out of the workplace. Then there’s the pay gap, the motherhood penalty, and lack of social support.
There is another factor that isn’t often addressed but deserves just as much attention. “I believe the most important bias we don't talk about is the bias against women's time,” says Eve Rodsky, author of Fair Play, who interviewed more than 1,000 women and men from all walks of life and family structures to uncover the unequal emotional labor and “invisible work” women face, and came up with a plan to systemize the home. “We know that a non-Latino white man is getting paid about double of what a Latinx woman is paid for an hour of work. We know that mothers get a five to 10% pay cut for each child they have, while fathers get a 6% pay bump per child. That’s inherently a time issue, where we're valuing someone's time more than the other. From my research, while we can measure the time bias based on unequal pay, the most insidious place I saw this time bias was in the home.”
I (virtually) sat down with Rodsky to talk about how we each play a role in creating a world where men, women and families can thrive.
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Holly Corbett: You say in Fair Play you discovered that men’s time is viewed as finite, like diamonds, and women’s time is seen as infinite, like sand. Can you give some real-world examples of this?
Eve Rodsky: “Since birth, women have been conditioned to value their time less than men’s time. I know I did, and it comes up in how women speak about their obligations in the home. The number one thing I heard from women in cisgender heterosexual relationships [about why they carry a larger part of the child-rearing responsibilities] is, ‘My job is more flexible.’ I'm here to tell you flexibility is in the eye of the beholder. There are studies that show if a woman is a doctor, and the man a professor, the woman will say her job is more flexible. Then another study includes a woman who is the professor, and a man who is a doctor. The woman still says her job is more flexible. This is an example of women being conditioned to guard men's time as more valuable than their own.”
Holly Corbett: The wage gap still exists. Do you think this is a major contributor to mothers being more likely to leave the workforce than fathers?
Eve Rodsky: “I do, and we need to fix it. However, doing more housework and childcare because you are the one who makes less money is a terrible losing argument for women. Repeat after me, ‘Money can no longer be the determinant of who does more housework and childcare, because even in the same jobs with the same hours, women earn less.’ It's a vicious cycle that will continue if we don’t stop it, because, at least in the past, the person who typically makes less was the person who was shouldering the caregiving, but ironically then you make less partly because of not being perceived as committed to the workforce or because of the ‘motherhood penalty.’
The pandemic has shed a light on what has been talked about since the Industrial Revolution. And that is that we build societies on the backs of the unpaid labor of women. We build societies on the backs of the undervalued labor of women of color. That is not easily changed, because there's a lot of benefits to the powers that be for doing that. It will take something giant, such as this pandemic, for societies to realize that this is unsustainable.”
Holly Corbett: What are some other ways this time bias shows up?
Eve Rodsky: I use the term ‘toxic time messages.’ Besides women telling me, ‘I do more because I make less money than my partner or have greater job flexibility,’ the other toxic time messages I heard from women about why they do more housework and childcare is that they are better multitaskers, and/or are somehow wired differently for care.
I went to the top neuroscientists in this country, and I quote them on the record in Fair Play. They told me that of course there's no gender difference in our brains for being a better caregiver or a superior multitasker. There just is not. One neuroscientist, off the record, said something that changed my life. He said, ‘Imagine, Eve, that we, men, could convince you, women, that you're better at wiping butts and doing dishes. Why would I ever want to dispel the notion that that's wrong? Saying women are better multitaskers helps my career, and my leisure time. Plus, I don't even have to fight with you about it, because you think you’re better at it.’
Another toxic time message I heard from women is, ‘in the time it would take me to explain how to do it to my partner, I might as well just do it myself.’ So I went to behavioral economist and New York Times bestselling author Dan Ariely. He said this is the worst argument he has ever heard from women, because that means that you are not valuing your own time, and you're completely devaluing your future time by not investing now to get things off your plate later. Until women believe that we have a permission to be unavailable from our roles, the same way that men do, nothing is going to change.”
Holly Corbett: Obviously the factors underlying so many women leaving the workforce during the pandemic are varied and complex. If you could explain it in a nutshell, what do you think are the main triggers?
Eve Rodsky: “You want to know why women are dropping out of the workforce—let's use the right word, being forced out of the workforce? It is this: It is the decision fatigue and the drowning in the invisible work that we have had to put on ourselves with a trifecta of three terrible things. One is not valuing women's time. The second is the ripping out of a social support network that we very rarely have in the 21st century. We don't live in a kibbutz. Many of us don't live near our relatives and our parents. Then we somehow are shamed for the fact that we should have to pay for care. It’s that, plus intensive Pinterest parenting. That trifecta has left us in a terrible position for our mental health, our careers, and worse.
There are statistics that show even people who are in the workforce are spending more time with their kids than mothers who weren't in the workforce during the “Mad Men” era. We have to unpack all those layers, but I believe it starts with guarding our own time, and to not blame ourselves. This is not “Lean In.” What I'm saying is that we have to start taking our own agency in our lives.”
Holly Corbett: It sounds like it all comes down to time and money, and that we all play a part—both women and men—in upholding this notion that women’s time is less valuable. Are you saying that the home is the most important starting point for overcoming this notion of time bias?
Eve Rodsky: “The home is really dangerous because it presents so small. So genuinely before I understood all the forces at work, and my husband texted me saying he was surprised I didn't get blueberries, I thought I was considering ending my marriage over being the fulfiller of my husband's smoothie needs. You think it's a ‘you’ problem. Private lives are public issues. Once we realized that this is not a ‘you’ problem; this is not a man's problem either, or women's problem. This is how we were conditioned in the man box and conditioned as women. We're conditioned to devalue our own time. None of this is working.
That's why Fair Play ultimately became a love letter to men as well, because nobody wants to live like this. Nobody wants to live in an ideal worker society where they don't get to raise their kids. Nobody wants to live in a society where they don't have a safety net or community. Nobody wants to live in a place where we're drowning in decision fatigue, because we don't know who's setting the table until we're hungry or cranky, or deciding who is taking the dog out until it's about to take a pee on the rug. We all need to be cultural warriors; each one of us has a place in this movement. My place was to systematize the home, to make the invisible visible, and to give people a way out of devaluing women's time.”
Article originally published in Forbes.