In Mid-2021 Forbes ran an article examining the impact of the COVID pandemic on working women. No surprise, the impact of the virus was more than just the social distancing, physical separation from work peers, and a heavy emphasis on technology. Additionally, many women also dropped out of the workforce entirely. The impact was direct and predictable, notes Desiree Peterkin Bell, a well-known advocate for women issues and flexibility in the workplace; working mothers were not only distanced, but they also found themselves being daycare centers, grade school teachers, homemakers, and over-strained employees for those that still tried to keep working. In fact, 1.1 million left the workforce entirely from the over-dependence on their physical availability.
Desiree Peterkin Bell reflects that working mothers with school-aged kids have found themselves pinched hard with school shutdowns, kids that have to be monitored, fed, directed, and taught with the absence of the teacher doing all the above and unable to from behind a computer screen. She’s heard dozens of stories and anecdotes herself as a working mother’s forum leader. Back at the office, unrelenting office politics and unsympathetic coworkers have been increasing mental pressure on women to stay “relevant” in the office or be seen as surplus and expendable due to distance from being actively “seen” near the management core. It’s a losing battle all the way around, Desiree Peterkin Bell notes.
2021 ended and 2022 brought both a vaccine, a milder variant, and finally, people returning. Now working mothers are facing the challenge again of returning back to their traditional jobs or not returning at all. Those who have the choice have instead opted for retirement and full separation altogether, but those with kids and income needs aren’t so lucky.
Unfortunately, Desiree Peterkin Bell reminds them that working mothers have an obligation to hold onto the progress they’ve made prior to COVID and the modern office. If working mothers give up what they have been able to obtain, reversals in the office culture will occur, and things may end up becoming worse for future mothers as a result. Working mothers have an opportunity to change office oral culture forever. Flexible work scheduling, remote work, and project work all favor the working mother, but companies also need to be prevented from reverting back to their old methods of business, particularly replacing challenging employees with younger, cheaper employees who don’t have children yet. This is the harder part; ageism continues to be a significant problem, especially in more advanced industries like technology that, per Desiree Peterkin Bell, has continued to be hostile to women in general. One just needs to look to the continued harassment cases that occur at companies like Uber and Blizzard as examples.
On the other hand, Desiree Peterkin Bell points to more and more working mothers are leading the charge in small business creation. Figuring it may be the better situation to be the one who makes the rules, they are finding creative ways to become an employer versus continuing to be the dependent employee. This particular avenue continues to be viable for working moms, especially those tailored to project work and customization.
The fallout from COVID has been dramatic, and many old work paradigms aren’t coming back, but Desiree Peterkin Bell argues working moms can’t give up the grounds gained. Doing so would affect working mothers for generations to come. So, Desiree Peterkin Bell continues to implore current working moms to fight for something better. Be the change and shift the paradigm.