RMIT: Triple load in lockdowns takes toll on women and gender equality

As around 15 million people across Australia continue to live under lockdown restrictions, the RMIT University Women, Work, Care and COVID report reveals the experience of women and how they managed work, family and remote schooling.
The project, conducted by researchers in RMIT’s Centre for People, Organisation and Work, comprised extensive interviews with women from 14 families with young children following Victoria’s lengthy lockdowns in 2020.
It is the first in-depth examination of work and family under lockdown that gives insights beyond the statistics.

Key findings:
Women took on the bulk of additional work in families, both visible and invisible work
Female study participants found the triple load of work, family and remote schooling over many months was exhausting and a near impossible task
Traditional gender roles, such as men being the key breadwinner in two-parent households with young children, can strengthen under COVID lockdowns
The ‘secondary’ nature of many women’s part-time employment and the combination of women working part-time and doing the bulk of unpaid household work can be deeply problematic for gender equality, especially during times of crisis
Lead author Dr Fiona Macdonald said the the disruption caused by COVID-19 may be especially critical for women with young children, potentially increasing their career disadvantages and reinforcing traditional gender roles.
“Our study really highlighted the precarity of women’s economic independence,” said Macdonald, a Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow in the School of Management at RMIT.

“We found that remote working and schooling may be leading to deeper gender divisions in parenting and household work.

“During lockdowns, women managed most of the home schooling, household work and care and they often had less dedicated time and space for their paid jobs than their male partners.
“Under the triple load of work, family and remote schooling over many months women stepped back from their employment and deferred career plans as their part-time jobs became secondary, in comparison to their partners’ jobs and in relation to family needs.”

While supportive and flexible workplaces can make a big difference to how families manage in lockdowns, the research found households relied largely on women’s flexibility, at a cost to their careers.

“If that flexibility disappeared, the capability of these households to function would likely crumble,” she said.

Macdonald said addressing the work/family issues raised during lockdowns was critical.

“We need to find better solutions, including increasing men’s access to flexible work,” she said.

“Reducing families’ ongoing reliance on women to be endlessly adaptable also requires universal access to flexible and affordable childcare.”

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