At the start of the pandemic, women were disproportionately affected because they lost more jobs, particularly in the hard-hit sectors such as hospitality and retail. 

However, even in sectors less affected, women were more likely to be trying to balance full-time working and full-time homeschooling (on top of the already unequal burden of domestic work). 

More women than men requested furlough, holiday or unpaid leave in order to homeschool and then worried that they were putting their careers on hold and that they’d pay the price in the long-term by missing out on promotion prospects. 

Rather than risk complete burnout, many women decided to quit the workforce altogether. 

McKinsey research showed that even women in heterosexual dual-career couples who have children reported more significant increases in their time spent on household responsibilities since the pandemic began. 

On the other hand, we’ve also seen technological and workplace changes, which we expect will lead to more workplace flexibility and family-friendly policies than might otherwise have been achieved over an entire decade. 

We anticipate more people will return to work in the office over the next few months. Many of us are looking forward to having a ‘proper’ desk with a comfortable office chair to sit on again rather than trying to balance a laptop at the kitchen table. 

Equally, many of us have missed being around co-workers and having conversations at the coffee machine. 

We expect working practices will change in the future, and those forward-thinking employers will continue to offer remote working as a fully-fledged option, not just as a ‘nice to showcase on the website’. 

On the face of it, this will suit working parents who’ve been yearning for more flexibility about when and where they work. 

While we’ve all been working from home, it really didn’t matter where you were based. We’ve all been equally remote and, therefore, equally visible. 

However, there’s a danger that if more women than men take up the option of remote working that they’ll potentially become less visible in the workplace. Visibility at work is a critical factor in being front of mind for new responsibilities, interesting challenges, and the promotion queue. Less visibility means that the gender pay gap – the average difference in pay between men and women – will widen as a result. 

Other factors that influence whether women are considering downshifting or quitting the workforce:  

  • Feeling like they need to be available to work at all hours or “always-on” when working from home
  • Worry that their performance is being negatively judged because of caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic 
  • Difficulty sharing with their teammates or managers the challenges they are facing 
  • Feeling blindsided by decisions that affect their day-to-day work 
  • Feeling unable to bring their whole selves to work

Very often, these factors can be tackled and overcome through meaningful personal development. 

Whether or not Covid-19 will have a negative impact on your career will be influenced by many factors, including: 

  • raising your awareness of how you communicate and behave at work, so you have a better understanding of how you are likely to be perceived by co-workers and senior management 
  • knowing how to get more visible so you make a bigger impact in the workplace even if you’re working from home
  •  learning how to appreciate your unique strengths, so you clearly articulate your skills and ambitions
  • setting and maintaining clear boundaries, so you don’t feel overwhelmed by stress and burnout
  • having the courage to step up and try things you’ve never done before, so you boost your productivity and creativity 
  • building and nurturing internal networks that will support and encourage you, so you feel less isolated. 

While there are many reasons why Covid-19 has a bigger negative impact on women’s careers than on men’s, there are also many factors within our own control that will determine whether the pandemic will affect our personal career. 

If you’d like to read more about how you can stop Covid-19 from having a negative impact on your career and instead manage your career with confidence and purpose, even in a pandemic, download a copy of my free workbook

Sherry Bevan is an experienced leadership consultant and mum to two teenage daughters.

Visit The Confident Mother to find out more about how she works with women. 

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