Here is why women are returning to work post COVID worse off than men

Women returning to work post COVID are worse off than men

Women are facing unique challenges as Australian companies call staff back to work after the pandemic. It is crucial that we talk about this to raise awareness of the challenges women face and shed light on the need for greater consideration and compassion in the workforce.

Challenges that women are facing

1. Women need to advocate stronger than men

As workers return to the office, women are being impacted more significantly than their male colleagues. We live in a society that lands the bigger responsibility of raising children on the mother’s shoulders. Despite slow change, women still carry the majority of child raising responsibilities. Also, during COVID Australia experienced over 56,000 divorces in 2021.

This was the biggest recorded number in one year which has given us an additional 56,000 more single mums, many of whom are the major caregivers. As a result, women need to advocate stronger than men for family friendly consideration. Women have to advocate for time off for school activities, school friendly hours and shared work office /home duties.

This is particularly so now that staff are being told to return to the office. The kicker in this is, if employers are rigid and fail to provide appropriate flexibility and support, women have to live with the resultant pressure of that and the constant fear that their kids will be impacted. Also, they also face the wonderful old chestnut ‘the kids are like that because she worked’.

2. Women need to plan more than men to just get to work

Insufficient childcare and caregiving support, coupled with many women living away from family support results in women needing to be on top of child minding, unlike men who unless they are the sole caregiver, seldom or often never, have to give it a thought.

Women returning to work post COVID are worse off than men

The challenge to find a quality childcare centre is one thing. Add to this the fact that there are just not enough centres to accommodate all the children in Australia. This means that a woman is planning and applying for childcare when the child is only a few weeks old if she is returning to work after maternity leave. It breaks my heart that women need to be thinking about childcare in a stressful manner. Even if they find a good one, are the kids actually safe?

There are reports every week of childcare centre incidents. We aren’t watching or regulating centres closely enough. Once school starts, women have to navigate before school, after school and school holiday programs which all cost money, all the while dealing with tired children that just want to stay home with mum. Mums have told me their pay evaporates in the school holidays because their wage goes to school holiday care which isn’t subsidised.

The stress and guilt of this one issue alone could create health issues in any woman. Sadly, women tend to ignore their health issues because they are too busy putting the kids first.

3. Women need to budget better than men

Women across Australia are still earning less than men for the exact same job. Yes, you heard me right, a woman is paid 13.3 percent less than a male doing her exact same job, meaning that for every $1 men make on average, Australian women make 87 cents.

I have a daughter who literally lives this experience. She has a clerical job doing exactly the same work as the male sitting next to her and he is paid $4 an hour more and the workplace won’t correct it. The business has even told the male to stop telling her what he earns.

Women returning to work post COVID are worse off than men

This is an annual difference of $8,000, $8,000 that the childless male has available to him to spend while the working mum has $8,000 less in her pocket. So, not only based on the average Aussie wage does a woman take home around $250 less, over 56,000 single mums need to spend more on daycare and after-hours school care. Also, they are now required to get to work and back every day, meeting the cost of public transport, fuel and parking.

4. Women need to be healthier than men

With only 10 days a year allowed for personal/sick days which are available to be taken for sick children, that allows for 3.3 days per child per annum based on an average three child family. According to Australian Health and Safety current figures, children currently have around 10 days a year off sick. So, after 10 days, the woman faces stress and angst at work and often comments from coworkers ¬†who claim they haven’t had a sick day in years.

Women also use up their annual leave by 20 days if they have three children, which is all they are entitled to and as a result, holidays are cut short or cancelled altogether. If the woman is running a normal family then she has no time left to take for a ‘personal day’ or mental health day. Women have to live with other heart-wrenching pressures such as sending a child to school who is being bullied because she is unable to take off any more time from work.

On top of this, many women face a mandatory end of year office shutdown. Women need to take their vitamins as they will not get a guilt free sick day until the youngest child turns 18.

5. They need to be more time savvy and resilient than men

It is an age-old belief that women are designed to work in the home in a way that men are not.This comes from generational teaching from as young as we can remember that women are the nurturers and caregivers. Despite societal change, this thinking still pervades.

Women returning to work post COVID are worse off than men

Women grow up learning to cook and clean with a smile knowing the world is much better because they’re doing it. But in the last 15 years, Australia has moved to a society that requires two incomes per household, meaning women have tend to the home and work.

In today’s society, women have to find the balance in providing everything while not completely breaking themselves.There is an old saying ‘time or money, you can’t have both’, meaning if you were a stay-at-home mum you had time to do a lot which could save you money or if you worked you had extra money to buy dinner or hire a cleaner.

But in 2023 in Australia this just isn’t true anymore, most women have to work and if they are lucky enough to get through a year without sick kids or any big hiccups, they may be able to enjoy a wine at Christmas. If workplaces offered more flexibility for women, much of this stress could be avoided. Workplaces would retain good people and also get the very best out of them. This needs to be considered in the call for workers to return to the office.

Empowering women through support and mentorship

It’s heartbreaking to see what women have to go through just to raise their families. This is why I was drawn to the vocation of helping other women. By running programs and courses designed for women, I help women find skills and strengths to overcome challenges of life.

Mentoring women through these hardships has been my life’s work and it’s very empowering and inspiring to watch the journey that these women who attend my courses go through.

Tracey Hortin is a highly respected and well-known keynote speaker, thought leader, life coach and mental health expert. Tracey is also the founder of a range of self-help and capacity building courses which are delivered online. These are designed to assist people to overcome grief, loss, trauma and other life setbacks and build resilience, reduce anxiety and improve self-esteem and self-worth.

Tracey Hortin