Work-From-Home Policies Don’t Close the Gender Chore Gap, Data Shows

by Maurie Backman | Published on July 25, 2021

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A mom standing at a kitchen island packing lunch boxes for her daughters who are sitting on stools watching.

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You'd think working from home would benefit women. In some ways, it doesn't.

Many people have now been working from home since the start of the pandemic, which means they've been doing their jobs remotely for a good 17 months. And with some companies offering the option to work from home on a permanent basis even once things improve on the pandemic front, there's a good chance a substantial portion of the workforce will be remote in the coming years.

Remote work has its clear benefits. It lends to a more flexible schedule and can help remote workers save money by not having to commute. And for parents, it can help minimize childcare expenses.

In fact, it's fair to say that remote work can benefit both male and female employees alike. But in the course of the pandemic, women have had a notably harder time juggling job and household responsibilities. And that trend could continue even once things get back to normal.

For work-from-home women, burnout is real

Working remotely during the pandemic has often meant having to juggle childcare responsibilities at the same time, what with schools having been closed for in-person learning for much of the past year and change. Under normal circumstances, remote workers wouldn't have to look after young children and disappear from meetings to change diapers. But during the pandemic, those tasks became necessary -- and they may have fallen more so on women than on men.

A good 79% of men said they had a positive experience working remotely during the pandemic, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Company. But only 37% of women said they felt similarly. And the reason likely boils down to the gender chore gap.

We've all heard of the gender pay gap; the fact that men are statistically likely to earn more than their equally qualified female counterparts isn't exactly news. But one trend that emerged during the pandemic is women taking on extra work around the house, with their male partners often lagging behind.

In fact, McKinsey reports that during the pandemic, mothers in dual-career couples have been twice as likely as fathers to do an extra five hours of domestic chores on a daily basis. And Yale research found that in cases where both parents did their jobs from home, women performed more household duties and assumed more childcare responsibilities. It's not surprising, then, that women may have teetered on the edge of burnout more so than men over the past 17 months.

Should women continue working remotely?

The 2021–2022 academic year is shaping up to largely be a normal one as far as in-person learning is concerned. That should, in turn, ease the childcare burden on women. But the chore gap may persist in situations where opposite-gender couples continue to do their jobs from home. And that's something women should be mindful of.

Now, this isn't to say that women should return to an office simply because they tend to get stuck doing more housework than men. If anything, being home during the day should make tending to household items easier.

But what women should look at doing is sitting down with their partners and mapping out a chore schedule so they're not forced to bear the brunt of the extra work themselves. This especially holds true for couples where both parties put in similar hours on the job and have comparably busy schedules.

It's bad enough that women typically don't get paid as well as men. Those who are tired of putting in extra hours on the home front should advocate for themselves rather than continue to uphold demanding routines that could lead to burnout.

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