Today marks the first day of Women’s History Month – a month designed to celebrate the countless contributions that women have made to our world – women like suffragist Susan B. Anthony, journalist Nellie Bly, civil rights activist Rosa Parks and many others whose contributions traditionally have been overlooked.
This year, I’d like to focus on the current overlooked contributions of almost all women. Since we celebrated Women’s History Month last in 2020, many women have had to choose between work and family. Hundreds of thousands of women have left the workforce.
Even before the pandemic, the burden of housework – organizing meals, laundry, cleaning house and arranging home repairs – fell mostly on women. A study published in the New York Times last year showed that women have always done more of the child care and housework. According to the American Economic Association, that is largely responsible for women’s lower pay.
According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2020, “Women who are employed full-time are often said to be working a ‘double shift.’ During COVID-19, women, and mothers in particular, are taking on an even heavier load….they’re 1.5 times more likely than fathers to be spending an extra three or more hours a day on housework and childcare – equivalent to 20 hours a week, or half a full-time job.”
For me, as a working mom in a demanding job, it’s been an incredibly stressful year. I cannot imagine, after a long day of work, spending another three or more hours caring for my family and our home. I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a supportive partner, my work is rewarding, and my children are older, so I’ve not had to contend with the challenges of child care and home-schooling.
Throughout the last year, we have been soliciting input from our employees who are also parents, to better understand their stresses and develop new ways to help support them. It’s very clear that women in particular are struggling.
As business leaders, we must find ways to support women. At Cardinal Health, as the pandemic unfolded, we acted quickly to increase access to child care and elder care services for our employees, to help ease that burden. We’ve added mental health services that employees can access remotely, including increased virtual access to mental health professionals through our employee assistance program, video Q&A chats with licensed mental health providers and free access to Headspace, a mindfulness meditation app that can help reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
But we’re going to have to do more. How do we support women who are still working and at risk of burnout? And how do we help women get back into the workforce after a pandemic-forced break? As we emerge from this crisis, what can we do differently?
We can start, I think, by recognizing the load that women still bear.
As a society, we must find new ways to support working women, from providing more affordable, quality child care so women don’t have to choose between work and family, to offering more flexible work options to helping workers and their families better cope with stress.
We must ensure that working mothers, who so often and for so long have assumed more of the care responsibilities than men, are not penalized for the choices that they feel forced to make for their families.
Finally, we must all continue to call out inequality. That is the only way we can achieve a truly level playing field for all.
This Women’s History Month, let’s focus on the future of women, even as we celebrate the accomplishments of those who have come before us.
Ola Snow is chief human resources officer at Cardinal Health. She has a passion for diversity, equity and inclusion and serves as co-executive sponsor for the D&I Council and an advisor to the Black and African American Racial Equity Cabinet, internal groups charged with challenging the status quo and helping to advance our DEI work. Snow also serves on the board of the Cardinal Health Foundation, Baxter Credit Union and Flying Horse Farms and is a commissioner on the Columbus Women’s Commission. She is an active member of The Ohio State University’s Women and Philanthropy and Go Red for Women Circle of Red.