Even The Most Successful Women Pay A Big Price In Pandemic
Joyce Chen had big plans for this year. She was working on multiple research projects with an eye on the prize: a promotion to full professor at Ohio State University.
That’s when the coronavirus pandemic hit. It put the brakes on four years of hard work as an associate professor. And now she wonders if her promotion will happen as she had hoped for next year.
Chen is part of a rarefied group of accomplished women who are tenured professors in economics. But she has now joined millions of working moms who have sidelined their work in the pandemic, stepping back from hard-earned careers to take care of the overwhelming needs at home.
“It’s almost impossible to do research in these kinds of circumstances,” says Chen, a mother of three. “There’s always something going on, and somebody needs something or something’s not working.”
While working fathers have not been spared in the pandemic, data collected by the Labor Department indicate that it’s largely mothers who are dealing with children who are not in school full time this fall. In September, 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce — four times the number of men who did. Countless others like Chen are struggling to get anything done.
For highly educated, high-income women, the “mom penalty” can be severe. Stepping down the career ladder puts promotions, future earning power and also their roles as leaders at risk.
Chen is well aware of the challenges women are already up against. Last fall, she co-authored a study on the gender pay gap at Ohio State. She took on the project after fighting and winning her own pay equity case, resulting in a 20% bump in her salary. Chen found that female professors at the university earn 11% less than their male counterparts, translating to a loss of close to $18,000 a year.
This year, because of the pandemic, Chen has missed out on grant opportunities and turned down collaborations. She hasn’t submitted any papers for publication. Her research is on indefinite hold.
“That’s something that’s going to ripple out through your entire career,” Chen says.
The unequal division of household labor in families gives rise to not just the “mom penalty” but the “dad premium.” Driven by the biological clock, women take time off or cut back on their hours just as their careers are taking off, giving men the opportunity to carry on with their work and move up.