How to Fix The Minority STEM Crisis

Scientist using microscope in laboratory. (Photo by: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY via AP Images)

Boasting a stellar academic record, a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and an MBA, Carla landed a plum job at one of the nation’s leading computer and information technology companies. She was excited to join the tech world and contribute to the Texas-based company where she hoped to make her career.

Carla’s excitement didn’t last. A Black woman, she felt overlooked and excluded from opportunities to advance. She found herself fighting for her annual raise. “I honestly felt,” she said, “like it was because I was a woman. I had probably one other woman on my team at various times, and it just seemed like the men weren’t having the same problems we were having …

I felt like at some point they weren’t listening to me.” After being asked to clean out the office of a colleague who had left the firm, she came across one of his old pay stubs. She discovered that he’d been making four times her salary despite having just one more year of experience. She abandoned her dream of working in technology and now works as a human resources officer for a law firm.

Carla’s story is one of 25 qualitative interviews at the core of a new report, STEM Voices: The Experiences of Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Occupations, published by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). (Subjects spoke to us on condition of anonymity.) Carla’s account—and others—echoes many of the themes discovered in an earlier AEI survey of STEM worker perspectives, which identified sharp differences in perception about workplace environment, support, and opportunities.

In that survey, conducted in 2020, white and Asian men saw the workplace as collaborative, open, and friendly and believed that women and minorities experienced their jobs in similar ways. Female and minority respondents said quite the opposite: They felt overlooked, not included as teammates, and cut off from the kind of coworker support their white and Asian male coworkers said they enjoyed. The survey data showed two almost entirely different worlds.

For STEM Voices, we tracked down 21 participants from the 2020 survey to paint a clearer picture of the people behind the survey data (interviews with a handful of other STEM professionals supplemented this research).

Our findings help explain why diversity remains elusive in STEM: Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives (DEI) can get workers to the foot of the ladder, but they don’t help them climb.

Despite myriad recruitment programs and initiatives to boost the number of women and minorities pursuing science and tech careers, women make up just 34 percent of the STEM workforce, according to the National Science Foundation. At the same time, Black and Hispanic Americans are underrepresented, especially among workers with a bachelor’s degree or more.To be clear, the problems for women and minorities in STEM start well before employment and even before graduation from post-secondary institutions.

One reason for these failures is a faulty “pipeline” of female and minority students into STEM. Blacks and Hispanics, for instance, are less likely to attend college, major in STEM, or complete a degree than whites. In 2017–19, Black and Hispanic students earned just 7 percent and 12 percent of STEM bachelor’s degrees, respectively, according to the Pew Research Center, though they collectively represent 31 percent of the U.S. population. But as Stem Voices reveals, the pipeline isn’t the only problem. Our interviews delved deeply into workers’ personal and career trajectories to understand their experiences and the challenges they faced on the job.

Over and over, female and minority workers recalled confronting barriers to success, including social isolation, lack of mentors, and outright discrimination. Though STEM careers might be among the most lucrative and in demand in today’s economy, many of the female and minority workers we interviewed did not believe that those opportunities were available to them.Many said they felt shut out from opportunities for advancement and lamented the lack of supervisors and mentors who looked like them.

As the computer instructor Michelle P. told us, “I never had a female manager. Ever.” A majority of women and workers of color interviewed also said they had experienced some sort of stereotyping, discrimination, or bias because of their race or gender. Out of 19 female and nonwhite interviewees, only two said they had never personally experienced discrimination or disparate treatment.

Many reported hurtful comments based on stereotypes about their intelligence or capabilities, which affected their morale, performance, and perceptions about their field. Others said they were passed over for promotions and other opportunities. John D., a Black computer programmer, said he overheard colleagues at his firm say they “had to overlook qualified white people to hire unqualified Black people.”

Tiffany C., an Asian doctoral student, said she was labeled as “difficult to work with” at the engineering design firm in Austin, Texas, where she worked before returning to graduate school. Carla A., the engineer, was told she needed “to smile more.” Another interviewee said one of her supervisors micromanaged her work but not those of lesser-qualified whites. “There is some sort of preconceived notion that Black people don’t do well in sciences,” J.S., who holds a doctorate in veterinary science and works for the federal government, said.

Many interviewees said they confronted unwelcoming office cultures and that they struggled to fit in. Women with children said balancing work and family obligations was a particular challenge, while other women said they kept to themselves to avoid sexual harassment. “One of the things … I kind of learned early on, too … was to really make clear that … I was happily married and not looking for anything,” said the IT instructor Michelle P. David B., a Black engineer, said he felt the need to seem unthreatening to white colleagues and bosses at the naval shipyard where he worked.

“I had to downplay the fact that I went to a good engineering school,” he told us. “As a matter of fact, I had to downplay that I even had an engineering degree, and I was going for a master’s degree.” Compounding these issues are the vastly different perceptions alluded to above, held by white workers in STEM. According to our July 2020 survey of STEM degree holders, more than 50 percent of women and nonwhite STEM workers said they believe that women and minorities encounter more obstacles in STEM than in other industries.

AEI’s 2020 survey also found, however, that many white workers don’t agree that their female and minority colleagues face difficulties in advancement, which perhaps presents the thorniest challenge to improving diversity in STEM. To these white workers, there is no problem to fix. Just 26 percent of whites in AEI’s previous survey, for instance, thought Black workers face more obstacles in STEM than in other fields compared to 51 percent of nonwhite workers.

While only 34 percent of men said women face more hurdles to advancement, 54 percent of women said they did. The white men we interviewed for STEM Voices also reflected these sentiments. “I didn’t see people, females, and the few minorities that were there held back,” said the retired chemist Jack H., who spent his career in the Army and is white. “If you have the ability and the drive, people will see that.” Moreover, some interviewees, such as the wildlife biologist Todd B., said they believed that concerns about racism and sexism are overblown.

“When you have a fire and you let the fire burn down to nothing but an ember, when you start blowing on that ember, it’s going to break out into a flame again,” he said. “My opinion is if we stopped focusing on all the racism … if we just let it die down, it would eventually go away.” This chasm in perceptions between white male workers on the one hand and their female and minority colleagues on the other means that STEM’s diversity crisis defies an easy fix. Culture, moreover, is notoriously difficult to change through policy.

This is something of a tautology: One of the best ways to solve the STEM diversity problem is simply to increase the number of women and minorities in the sector. To do that, we need complementary strategies that boost the numbers of women and minorities in the STEM pipeline and “stop-loss” efforts focused on retaining those already in the field who can strengthen diversity and inclusion efforts on the job and provide more mentors for those in the pipeline.

Historically black colleges and universities play a crucial role in building the pipeline. Many of the interviewees in STEM Voices, for instance, attended an HBCU, where they had mentors, felt challenged in their courses, and belonged to a community. These foundational experiences, interviewees said, instilled the confidence and self-reliance they’ve needed to survive in challenging work environments.

One obvious step, therefore, is to increase investment in HBCUs, which produce a disproportionate share of the nation’s Black STEM graduates. Nearly half of the Black women who earned degrees in STEM between 1995 and 2004 graduated from an HBCU. Although the American Rescue Plan granted HBCUs a historic $2.7 billion, this much-needed infusion didn’t reverse decades of chronic underfunding.

Another pipeline strategy is to dramatically increase the number of Black and Hispanic K–12 teachers in STEM. Just 6 percent of K–12 STEM teachers in 2012 were Black, and only 6 percent were Hispanic, according to research by Tuan Nguyen of Kansas State University and Christopher Redding of the University of Florida. Increasing the number of minority teachers in STEM would provide more minority students with the role models and mentors that many of our interviewees said were critical to their decision to major in STEM fields in college.

Expanding internships and early work experience would also allow minority students to develop mentors and professional networks for future guidance and support. The retention challenge is rooted more in culture than in formal education and is, therefore, harder to address. The answer is not, however, more “diversity training.” As Frank Dobbin of Harvard University and Alexandra Kalev of Tel Aviv University write, these efforts can backfire because “anti-bias messaging tends to provoke resistance in white men who feel unjustly accused of discrimination or worry that their employers’ commitment to equity threatens their careers.”

Most of the disadvantage women and minorities experience is subconscious and unintentional, rather than overtly racist or sexist. This accounts for the wildly different interpretations of working conditions and opportunities we discovered in the survey and STEM Voices. Everyone understands the awkwardness and discomfort of being outnumbered in a social setting. Alerting managers and employees to “go the extra mile” to ensure that women and minorities are integrated into day-to-day work will do much to break down barriers.

As Dobbin and Kalev suggest, managing diversity should not be “relegated” to women and workers of color but be part of every manager’s job description. Over time, structural investments and human resource efforts like these will produce the numbers of women and minority professionals necessary to shift the culture of STEM for the better. In the interim, those in positions of authority and advantage in the workplace need to redouble their efforts to build resilient workers who can succeed despite the odds against them.

Source: How to Fix The Minority STEM Crisis | Washington Monthly

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Pandemic Brain Explains Why You Have Brain Fog & Can’t Focus

If you feel like you’re losing your mind, you’re not weird. In fact, right now you’re probably in the majority and dealing with what people are calling “pandemic brain.”

There are many reasons for why the late-stage pandemic is messing with your brain. Your colleagues are showing up for Zoom calls fresh-faced and smiling, moments after posting memes that say, “I am in hell.” Your social media feeds are dystopian — a picture of your high school classmate in a crowded club above a heartbreaking photo of your friend’s dad on a ventilator, above an ad for a multilevel marketing scheme clearly aimed at mums who have been pushed out of the workforce.

Your job, if you’re lucky enough to have one, is encouraging you to “give yourself breaks!” and “find time to relax!” while subtly suggesting that if you don’t work doubly hard, you won’t have a job to take breaks from. Everything you do is harder than it used to be.

“People feel like they’re not as sharp — there is a sense of being overwhelmed,” says Raquel Gur, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and radiology at the University of Pennsylvania. Gur has been conducting an international study of personal resilience during the pandemic, and she’s heard countless people describe similar symptoms of “being flooded with emotion” and “being dysregulated.”

It’s an experience people are calling “pandemic brain.”

Pandemic brain is not a disorder, and it hasn’t yet been studied, Gur says, but it’s certainly happening. “It’s more of a subjective report of what people describe as a fogging mind,” she explains.

Neurobiologically, this makes sense. “When the temporal limbic regions of the brain are active from being overwhelmed with worries and uncertainty,” she says, it’s harder for the part of your brain that lets you complete tasks to function.

“It’s like a fogginess or a low-level depression that comes with being isolated or off your regular routines,” saysDeanna Crosby, a therapist who has been hearing reports of these symptoms from her clients, including people who felt healthy before the pandemic.

In other words, it turns out there are real consequences to trying to carry on at normal levels of productivity through a prolonged period of crisis. And even though your impulse might be to stop feeling sorry for yourself, or to get over it, or think about how others have it worse, scientists are telling us clearly that the mental effects of living through the past 16 months are an extremely serious, widespread problem. Whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone.

How bad are things, really?

“I’ve been doing this for about 21 years and I think this is the hardest I’ve ever seen people struggle with depression and anxiety and definitely substance use,” says Crosby. A screening of more than 300,000 adults by the U.S. Census Bureau found that, compared with 2019, American adults in the spring of 2020 were more than three times as likely to meet criteria for depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, or both. Depression symptoms are especially associated with having low savings and low income.

Another survey of 70,000 people throughout the pandemic revealed, depressingly, what you might already have intuited: “Depression and anxiety are still highest in young adults, women, people with lower household income, people with a long-term physical health condition, people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and people living with children.”

Gur’s research has also found that women have higher levels of COVID worry than men, and that Black women, consistently, shoulder the greatest burden of worry around jobs and health.

What many people need is so much more than we can do for ourselves—direct government intervention for food security, rent breaks, medical care, and unemployment pay. But there are ways to feel less dread, less confusion, and less pandemic brain fogginess now.

What can I do to feel better?

“The best thing that I have found that naturally increases serotonin and dopamine is exercising,” says Crosby. I know, I know! We should be sitting less and exercising more, we get it! But it’s not about burning calories, and it doesn’t matter what form it takes for you, or how short it is—any kind of movement can help clear your head.

And yes, Crosby also recommends meditation to help with pandemic brain. I know, I know, I know! I’m tired of hearing about the amazing benefits of meditation too! But Crosby makes a strong case for at least trying it: “We can do anything for five minutes. Spend two weeks to a month doing five-minute meditations,” she advises. “Anyone can do five minutes a day.”

The key isn’t necessarily to torture yourself with the same tired list of wellness recommendations you’ve heard a thousand times before, says Gur. The key is to ask yourself: “What makes me feel better?” The key is to interrupt your feelings of despair or brain fog with an action. “Ask yourself: What can I do that will alleviate some of the being flooded with emotion, being dysregulated?” Gur says.

It could be running or meditating, but it could also be listening to music. Joining any kind of online community—from a religious community, to a gaming community, to the international karaoke app that I am personally obsessed with—can help.

This practice of lifting yourself out of those feelings is building resilience, and that is a powerful tool in fighting pandemic brain. “We found that resilience is associated with less anxiety and depression,” Gur says. So, in other words, “people who are resilient do better during the pandemic.” Being resilient, she says, means “the ability to cope with adversity and self-regulate emotions.” And the good news is it’s something she believes you can build overtime if it’s not your strength right now.

But wait! I’ve tried those things.

You already know that exercise is good for you. But when you’re engulfed in feelings of worry and despair, you’re not exactly in the mood for a 5k. “Being depressed is like pushing an elephant uphill,” says Crosby. “It’s really hard to do the things that are the best for you when you’re depressed.”

Her recommendation is to break the cycle: baby steps; a little bit of discipline; self-compassion. “Just try to be a little better today than you were yesterday,” she says.

Part of what’s so hard about feeling low-level (or high-level) depression and anxiety right now is that our culture is carefully set up to convince us that everyone else is fine. But we can destigmatize emotional struggling. “People will say things to me, as a psychologist, like, ‘Wow, you work with some really sick people!’” Crosby says. “And I’ll think, Well, I work with your husband, and your neighbor. They’re not ‘really sick people’; they’re just people who want to be better.”

Things really are about to get better.

Gur says that with so many people getting the vaccine, mental health reports are starting to look a lot more optimistic. But people who were able to build resiliency — who learned how to give themselves real breaks, regulate their emotions, steady themselves through the lows of COVID — are doing better across the board.

And if you continue to deal with depression, anxiety, and pandemic brain fog, it’s not a reflection of your character. It’s not you; it’s just a condition. “If you have a broken arm, nobody says you’re weak,” says Crosby.

“But when you’re struggling mentally, people seem to think there’s that stigma that you’re weak. But it’s not a mind-over-matter thing—if people could not be depressed, they would not be depressed! But they can’t. It’s beyond their control.”

Building resilience is a long process. Building it while dealing with depression, anxiety, or any kind of pandemic brain fog is brave.

Source: Pandemic Brain Explains Why You Have Brain Fog & Can’t Focus | Glamour UK

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More Contents:

COVID-19’s impacts on the brain and mind are varied and common – new research

Is it time to give up on consciousness as ‘the ghost in the machine’?

Curious Kids: why does the sun’s bright light make me sneeze?

A new understanding of how the human brain controls our hands – new research

COVID-19 restrictions take a toll on brain function, but there are techniques to help you cope

You don’t have a male or female brain – the more brains scientists study, the weaker the evidence for sex differences

Queer people’s experiences during the pandemic include new possibilities and connections

What is the ‘unified protocol’ for PTSD? And how can it help?

Losing speech after a stroke can negatively affect mental health – but therapy can provide hope

Best evidence suggests antidepressants aren’t very effective in kids and teens. What can be done instead?

3 lessons the COVID-19 pandemic can teach us about preventing chronic diseases

The forgotten psychological cost of corruption in developing countries

Black Women Were Among The Fastest-Growing Entrepreneurs—Then Covid Arrived

Sherika Wynter was on a roll. Since releasing an insulated luxury tote bag for professionals in 2018, and subsequently selling out three times, her Maryland-based research and development company Thomas & Wynter had been featured in British GQ and the International Business Times and on several local news segments.

She walked into February 2020 with more notches on her belt: a Google small-business award and a joint venture deal with a prominent Black law firm to create another product for professionals.

“We were growing exponentially,” says Wynter, a Black entrepreneur who, with cofounder Shallon Thomas, started the business in 2014.

As the coronavirus threat escalated in early March, their sales declined, nearly hitting zero by  April. That same month, Wynter laid off almost every member of her five-person team, save for one contract worker.

“Right now, we’re treading water and have applied for ten different grants with no success. It’s a little daunting, but we’re trying to carry the company on our backs,” Wynter says.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the pandemic has decimated small businesses and early-stage ventures, especially those owned by women and people of color. Black women sit at this juncture, bearing a disproportionate share of the virus’ impact.

For years, Black women have created new businesses at a rapid clip, far outpacing other racial and ethnic groups. But strong financial headwinds from the pandemic and a lack of access to new funding sources threaten to wipe out decades of economic progress, leaving Black female business owners in a state of perpetual uncertainty, waiting for relief they fear will never come.

Sherika Wynter of Thomas and Wynter
Sherika Wynter of Thomas & Wynter Research and Development. SW

The face of female entrepreneurship overall is becoming a lot less white. Black women represent 42% of new women-owned businesses—three times their share of the female population—and 36% of all Black-owned employer businesses.

High levels of educational attainment, coupled with overcoming barriers to corporate advancement, have prompted Black women to pursue entrepreneurship, where they’ve become a potent economic force. Majority Black women-owned firms grew 67% from 2007 to 2012, compared to 27% for all women, and 50% from 2014 to 2019, representing the highest growth rate of any female demographic during that time frame.

“There’s this assumption that entrepreneurship is a tech startup that’s venture-capital-funded because we see so much about Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. People discount informal entrepreneurship and part-time business creation, which creates a narrow view of entrepreneurship,” says Donna Kelley, who has led research on the rate of Black entrepreneurship and serves as a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College.

But the decade-long boom in Black business creation masks deep inequities in access to the financial resources needed to create businesses that reach maturation, which is widely recognized as past the five-year mark. There are fewer established Black female business owners relative to their high rate of entrepreneurship, Kelley says. “This is persistent over time, which tells us that fewer of them are sustaining their businesses into maturity.” 

In America’s business ecosystem, it’s not uncommon for companies to operate in the red for years before becoming profitable. Their lasting power is often made possible because of outside investors or their ability to secure loans from commercial banking institutions or credit unions. But Black entrepreneurs have historically been locked out of these funding opportunities. 

“A commonality for Black people, especially women, is that it takes longer to obtain capital, and so they have to put in a lot more sweat equity,” says Laquita Blockson, director of social innovation at Agnes Scott College and co-investigator on a study about the success of African American women-led entrepreneurial ventures.

The lack of access to capital also dictates, in part, to which industries Black women flock. “If you don’t have the personal resources to get your business up and running, you may pick businesses that are easy to get off the ground, but that are crowded with competition for similar products and services, and less opportunity for differentiation,” Kelley says.

Many of those businesses are in industries that have been severely affected by the pandemic, with about 40% of revenue generated by Black-owned businesses in the hardest-hit sectors, including leisure, hospitality, transportation and retail. 

“Hair salons, catering, restaurants or anything related to events . . . all of that shut down, and so the success of business owners in those industries depends on how much they have in reserves or were able to get from the federal government—both of which pose challenges for Black entrepreneurs,” says Jeffrey Robinson, founding assistant director of The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at Rutgers Business School. 

When Sundrae Miller was forced to close the doors to her Adara Spa on March 26, she immediately sought out new funding sources. She received $2,300 under the Paycheck Protection Program, a $64,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan and deferred her spa’s mortgage payment for one month. The Small Business Administration covered the next six months.

“That was my saving grace. If I hadn’t received that mortgage break, I’m afraid I’d be out of business,” says the Raleigh, North Carolina, resident.

Adara Spa reopened to the public on May 22, but business remains slow, and she fears a second state-mandated closure as winter approaches. In November, she’ll have to restart her mortgage payments.

Hunting for business grants has become like a full-time job for Miller, who often finds herself searching and applying for sources of capital until 2 a.m. She has applied for 21 grants to date, securing $23,000 from five of them. While the additional funding may seem sizable, Miller says she lost $20,000 each month her spa was closed and is losing $10,000 monthly since reopening at half-capacity. “I have a few grant applications out right now and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Okay, Lord, please let something come through,’” she says.

Little of the $670 billion PPP funding reached Black business owners, largely due to built-in structural limitations, such as stipulations around minimum headcounts and revenue requirements. When Wynter received a $1,000 PPP loan for her research and development company, she laughed. “They said, ‘Here’s a 30-year loan for $1,000,’ and I said, ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ It was a slap in the face.”

Others had some success. The majority Black-owned architecture and engineering firm Sabir, Richardson & Weisberg (SRW) received a $150,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan and a $280,000 PPP loan less than one month after applying for each.

“We usually have far under three months of runway. Without the PPP loan, we would have had to lay people off and not take a salary,” says Yvette Richardson, one of the company’s four partners, three of whom are Black. 

SRW, Sabir, Richardson & Weisberg
Yvette Richardson, on the far right, at SRW. Peek Photography, LLC

Access to capital is a major predictor of business success and Black entrepreneurs find it difficult to weather economic duress, reach scalability and pivot away from unsustainable business models without financial backing.

“A lot of Black businesses will not survive this pandemic without more help. That is the sobering truth,” says Asahi Pompey, president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation.

Black business owners who apply for funding have a rejection rate three times higher than that of their white counterparts, according to a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses report that surveys participants in a program bearing the same name.

Some 43% of Black-owned businesses in Goldman Sachs’ entrepreneurial program say they are likely to lose their cash reserves by the end of 2020, versus 30% of the overall program’s population, and 31% say less than 25% of their pre-Covid revenue has returned, compared to 16% of the overall population. The report defines growth-oriented entrepreneurs as individuals with businesses that have revenues of around $150,000 and two to six employees.

“This data lays bare the structural inequities Black people face and that’s born out in their entrepreneurial endeavors,” Pompey says. Already, Covid-19 has shuttered 41% of Black-owned businesses, compared to just 17% of white-owned businesses.

Blockson warns that not only will Black female entrepreneurs find it difficult to survive this period of economic downturn, but also that those who temporarily close shop will find it far more challenging to reopen. 

“It will be a huge shock in the economic system, and it is raising alarms,” she says. “But I am also very hopeful and optimistic that this could be a great opportunity for those who are positioned for it and able to make a shift.”

Some Black businesses are getting creative and diversifying their offerings to stay afloat. SRW, for example, has sought out more healthcare projects and is dabbling in HVAC technology, anticipating the services clients will need as the demand for indoor ventilation systems grows. 

However, many small businesses aren’t easily adaptable without a massive infrastructure overhaul, which requires a significant financial investment. And most Black and women-led businesses only have a few weeks to a month of cash flow. 

“This is a critical moment in time that is going to set us on a trajectory that could certainly be problematic in terms of the state of Black businesses for years to come,” says Goldman Sachs’ Pompey.

When small businesses flourish, so do their communities, and Black business owners often intentionally locate themselves in Black and Brown spaces, acting as economic spigots in these neighborhoods. Their erasure comes with far-reaching consequences, including the loss of jobs, community development and new economic opportunities for residents of underserved areas.

Nearly 75% of Black business owners in Goldman Sachs’ survey say they recently mentored others in their communities, compared to 50% of white business owners.

“It’s not just that it’s a single business that shuttered. It’s that it’s a pillar of the community and someone who’s a leader or a mentor. The blast radius impact of the pandemic on Black communities is something that can’t be overstated,” Pompey says.

The pandemic’s paradoxical silver lining is that it has brought increased attention to revitalizing small businesses, which provide almost half of all jobs in the U.S. At the same time, a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has generated an influx of support for Black-owned businesses and corporate grants that cater to Black entrepreneurs. 

Wynter is capitalizing on this surge in public interest and has seen a spike in online sales since the national reckoning on racial injustice began in June. Sales jumped from 7 orders in May to 87 in June, she says. “People have really been a free marketing mechanism for small businesses, which has been a blessing.”

Even still, she and her cofounder are wary about the longevity of their company. They tapped into their savings in September, putting a combined $8,000 into the business, and are raising new funds through a friends and family round.

“As a business owner, you plan and you try to bob and weave through things,” she says. “But there is no way to bob and weave this pandemic. You have to take its hits and hope that you don’t get knocked out.”Follow me on Twitter. Send me a secure tip

Ruth Umoh

Ruth Umoh

I’m a reporter covering the various aspects of diversity and inclusion in business and society at large. Previously, I was a reporter at CNBC, where I focused on leadership and strategic management. I’ve also dabbled in video journalism, working as a breaking news digital producer for New York Daily News, followed by a yearlong stint as a producer at Rolling Stone. My work has been featured on New York Daily News, Yahoo Finance and Time Out. I’m a proud alumna of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, receiving honors for my investigative thesis on the alarming number of physicians dying by suicide. Tweet me @ruthumohnews or send tips to rumoh@forbes.com

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Women Risk Losing Decades of Workplace Progress Due To COVID-19 – Here’s How Companies Can Prevent That

American women have made strides in the workplace over the past half-century in terms of earnings, employment and careers – in no small part thanks to the efforts of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The COVID-19 pandemic risks undoing many of these gains in a matter of months. Without concrete action, I believe a generation of women may never fully recover.

One group of women who are at particular risk are those in professional fields. While fortunate enough to have quality jobs, many are being forced by the increased demands of child care to reduce working hours – or to stop working altogether. Mothers have always handled more of a household’s child care than fathers have, but it has become further lopsided since lockdowns began earlier this year.

As a result, more than one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely, according to a study of 317 companies released Sept. 30. And the latest jobs report out on Oct. 2 found that women’s participation rate in the labor market continues to fall faster than for men.

With schools across the country struggling to open classrooms for in-person learning, many women will have little choice but to either continue juggling the needs of their children with the demands of their jobs or give up on the latter. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more it threatens to cause permanent damage to women’s ability to advance in their careers and earn more income.

However, this outcome is not inevitable. As an expert in business ethics, I believe companies have the ability – and duty – to prevent many of these negative outcomes.

Child care responsibilities

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of all working women.

Since April, for example, women – especially Black women – have lost jobs at much higher rates than men, in large part because they tend to hold jobs in sectors that have been most devastated by the pandemic, such as service, travel and retail.

At the same time, women do a majority of the low-paid essential jobs. Women make up 77% of health care workers, 77% of teachers, 94% of child care workers and 70% of cashiers – jobs that tend to be underpaid and undervalued and also put them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

But it’s professional women, such as lawyers, analysts, engineers and other executives, who have the most to lose because of the great advances they’ve made in their careers compared with women a generation ago – even if there’s still a ways to go to achieve gender equality.

Since women are generally responsible for organizing child care for their families, the demands on their time have increased significantly during the pandemic. A study looking at the period of time prior to the first widespread U.S. outbreak in February through the first peak in April showed that mothers with young children had reduced their work hours four to five times more than fathers, exacerbating the gender gap in work hours by 20% to 50%.

Another study, which examined data from the Census Household Pulse survey in late April and early May, found that over 80% of U.S. adults who were not working because they had to care for their children not in school or daycare were women.

And with the school year currently in full swing, women continue to cite child care at a much higher rate than men do as a reason that they are not able to work. Management consultancy Boston Consulting Group found women are spending 15 more hours a week on domestic labor during the pandemic than men. And Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on helping companies better serve women, reported that women are twice as likely as men to be responsible for homeschooling.

We know that part of the reason for all of this is because of workplace norms and societal gender biases. Some of it, however, has to do with what’s most practical for a family. If someone needs to reduce hours, families will choose the person who makes less – and usually, that is the woman. And since women also tend to work fewer hours and are more likely to work part-time, their jobs are the lower priority when there is a disruption.

But it’s not just mothers. Women without children are also more likely to be in caregiving roles, even more so during the pandemic. Two-thirds of caregivers in the U.S. are women, meaning they provide daily or regular support to children, adults or people with chronic illnesses or disabilities – and are also at risk of losing job-related ground due to stress and burnout.

What companies can do

Fortunately, companies can do a lot to soften the impact and offset disparities altogether.

It begins with communication. The first thing companies should do is survey their employees to determine what they need. The results can guide the types of policies that could best address workers’ unique concerns and situations.

Whatever management changes are made, it’s imperative that businesses communicate clearly and often with all employees and set appropriate and reasonable workloads. Given the increased strains workers are under, it’s also very helpful to organize and distribute mental health resources and encourage employees to use them.

Increased flexibility is something all women need right now. Women taking care of young children especially need more flexibility to help them juggle competing demands on their time.

Flexible work can mean many things, such as allowing employees to continue working from home even after others return to the office, helping them balance hours and scheduling key meetings and other duties at particular times. For example, many parents are driving their children to school to avoid the bus, so companies can help by simply not scheduling important meetings at common pickup and drop-off times. In my own department, some shared their personal calendars with management to help with this kind of scheduling.

Other families may have their children home all the time because of online school or child care issues, so recording meetings and events for people who cannot attend – or who have disruptions – will ensure everyone has access to important information.

But it’s not just about providing flexibility to women. Men need flexibility too so they can handle more of the child care duties – including after having a baby – allowing women to spend more time doing their professional jobs. Some men have been reporting that they do not have the same flexibility as women to manage family care even when they say they want or need to take on more of the responsibilities.

And when workers are expecting a baby, offering equivalent leave to both mothers and fathers can make a big difference in helping women stay in the workforce and advance in their careers during the pandemic. Most states and companies have policies that are more generous to mothers than fathers – often twice as much.

One more step companies can take is to more actively assist with child care, whether by providing outright subsidies or simply information and guidance about available resources.

Companies can also correct for some of these issues during performance reviews by adjusting unrealistic productivity expectations.

Helping women thrive

Companies need to understand how gender bias further disadvantages women during times of crisis. Women are typically penalized for being “visible caregivers,” while fathers benefit from a “fatherhood bonus.”

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

And even when companies have supportive policies in place, there’s often a disconnect in how these policies are implemented and integrated.

That’s why I believe the best and most important strategy for ensuring women thrive and continue to make gains in business – and society – is to increase representation and inclusion at all levels of planning and decision-making.

By: Stephanie M.H. Moore Lecturer, Indiana University

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CNBC Television 999K subscribers CNBC’s Julia Boorstin reports new data from LeanIn and McKinsey’s annual ‘Women in the Workplace’ report that shows the effects of coronavirus in one year could erase years of progress women have made in the workforce.

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