It’s 5am. I’ve woken up early to get a couple of hours of work in before the kids wake up.
At 10am, my husband starts work in his corporate role from our home office. For the next six hours, I’m the primary carer for our two small children, which involves feeding, homeschooling, entertaining and otherwise keeping the kids from killing themselves or each other. If I’m ‘lucky’, they might end up in the naughty corner for five minutes, giving me time to jump online and reply to urgent emails.
At 4pm, their dad takes over for a couple of hours while I go back to work, mostly returning phone calls and emails. At 6pm, I log off and get dinner ready for the family, then supervise bath time and get the kids into bed.
Every other day, I manage to duck out after the kids are asleep for a quick run. I get home at 8.30pm and I work on my laptop until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.
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What I’ve just described is an average day in the life of a female business owner with caring responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Increasingly, women are turning to entrepreneurship as a way of generating income for their families. The flexibility that business ownership can afford working parents (compared to traditional employment) is a drawcard for many women.
But ‘having it all’ comes at a cost.
Despite peak rates of female breadwinners, most home and caring responsibilities still fall to women.
Add a global pandemic to this already delicate balance of financial responsibility and the mental load of running a home and family, and it’s little surprise we’re seeing peak rates of anxiety, hopelessness and depression.
With most female-owned businesses operating in the industries hardest hit by social distancing restrictions (such as beauty and retail), the financial strain and uncertainty has been most profound among these women.
Given that more than 80% of all Australian female business owners are mothers or primary carers for the disabled, these women have had to deal with more than just the economic consequences of COVID-19.
As restrictions increased, the burden of arranging childcare, homeschooling, sourcing supplies, taking care of elderly parents and relatives and ensuring adequate hygiene has fallen squarely onto the shoulders of women.
Statistics show that the vast majority of husbands of business-owning mothers are employed full time. Most mothers, by contrast, work part-time hours. The obvious reason for this is the additional caring responsibilities carried by the female in the home.
In a COVID-19 context, this has translated into mothers sacrificing time on their businesses to ensure that fathers have productive time during the day to work. Remember the analyst being interviewed on live TV whose rogue children photobombed his interview? That’s what most women have been working their tails off to avoid for the past eight weeks.
The question is: In a world where women are no longer running hobby businesses or earning ‘pocket money’, but making a significant contribution to the family finances, why is it that the vast majority of family duties still fall to women, to the detriment of their own careers?
In 2017, French artist Emma’s feminist comic, You Should’ve Asked, went viral. The comic demonstrates the constant mental load carried by working mothers. The comic has been shared countless times across social media. Clearly, its message has resonated with working mothers around the world.
Now, more than ever, we need to seriously think about the role of the modern woman and mother. As we transition into a new normal, men and women need to be having frank conversations at home and at work about who is bearing the mental load of the home and family, and whether that burden can be shared more equitably among members of the household.
If we don’t take action urgently, we risk stunting the growth of our valuable female enterprises. With almost 10% of jobs slashed during the pandemic period, many will be looking to self-employment as their next best option.
We need to ensure a level playing field for our aspiring and existing female business owners, so that our society and economy can take advantage of the enormous boost they offer.
If we’re able to support women in business better, I expect we’ll finally see some meaningful improvement in entrenched gender issues such as superannuation gaps and underemployment among women.