Unwrapping the long-term impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on Brazilian academic mothers: the urgency of short, medium, and long-term measures

JULIANA HIPÓLITO LUISA M. DIELE-VIEGAS TÁBATA E.F. CORDEIRO LILIAN P. SALES ADRIANA MEDEIROS KATHLEEN R. DEEGAN LUCIANA LEITE About the authors

Abstract

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, publications have highlighted the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on academic mothers, mostly focusing on the impact of social distancing and quarantine. A few months later, despite the lack of effective vaccines or therapeutics in sight, many economic activities are being resumed. Nurseries and schools are expected to be among the latest to reopen, which will amplify the impacts of the pandemic on academic mothers. In this letter, we unwrap the pandemic impacts on academic mothers and describe a set of specific short-, medium- and long-term policies that, if implemented, could reduce setbacks for gender equality during the pandemic and can help to level the playing field for academic mothers.

Key words
coronavirus; gender; pandemic; mothers in science

Recent publications have highlighted the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on academic mothers (Alon et al. 2020ALON T, DOEPKE M, OLMSTEAD-RUMSEY J & TERTILT M. 2020. The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality. NBER 26947: 37. https://doi.org/10.3386/w26947., Staniscuaski et al. 2020aSTANISCUASKI F ET AL. 2020a. Impact of COVID-19 on academic mothers. Science 368: 724-724. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abc2740.). While much has been said about the impact of social isolation and home-schooling of children on women’s productivity due to the unequal division of housework and childcare, little was discussed about the situation of academic mothers after the suspension of lockdown and social distancing. Despite the lack of effective vaccines or therapeutics in sight, governments around the world have begun resuming economic activities. In this letter, we argue that many of the proposed arrangements, on top of the aggravated economic crisis, are likely to amplify the impacts of COVID-19 on academic mothers, especially those with small children (1 to 6-year-old) (Myers et al. 2020MYERS KR, THAM WY, YIN Y, COHODES N, THURSBY JG, THURSBY MC, SCHIFFER P, WALSH JT, LAKHANI KR & WANG D. 2020. Unequal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on scientists. Nat Hum Behav 4: 880-883., Staniscuaski et al. 2020aSTANISCUASKI F ET AL. 2020a. Impact of COVID-19 on academic mothers. Science 368: 724-724. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abc2740., bSTANISCUASKI F ET AL. 2020b. Gender, race and parenthood impact academic productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic: from survey to action. bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abc2740.).

Schools are expected to be among the last institutions to reopen, and many parents, including academic mothers, may not have a place to leave their children during working hours (Stock 2020STOCK JH. 2020. Reopening the coronavirus-closed economy. Tech. rep., Hutchins Center Working Paper, 60: 10. Washington: Booking Institution.). New arrangements on the number of children allowed at school per day, the proportion of virtual vs. in-person classes, and adaptation to new school routines (Melnick & Darlin-Hammond 2020MELNICK H & DARLIN-HAMMOND L. 2020. Reopening Schools in the Context of COVID-19: Health and Safety Guidelines From Other Countries (policy brief). Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute, available at <https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/reopening-schools-covid-19-brief>.
https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/prod...
) will likely burden academic mothers requiring them to support their children navigate this new reality. At the same time, as researchers, many will need to juggle face-to-face and remote classes, which for many, will require extra planning and preparation. Unlike their childless peers, academic mothers are unlikely to resume fieldwork and return to their labs, which may widen existing gender gaps and shrink academic mothers’ chances to develop new research. Their impossibility to contribute to research that requires in-person data collection or that requires academic mothers to physically attend meetings, and other academic responsibilities can increase microaggression, workplace hostilities, and harassment (Blithe & Elliott 2019BLITHE SJ & ELLIOTT M. 2019. Gender inequality in the academy: microaggressions, work-life conflict, and academic rank. J Gend Stud 1–14: https://doi.org/10.1080/09589236.2019.1657004). Increased household responsibilities, including childcare and diminished research opportunities, can undermine the competitiveness of early-career academic mothers, many currently in temporary positions. These differences between academic mothers and their childless peers can take their toll on academic mothers’ future careers. The post-pandemic scenario is likely to be even more competitive, with foreseeable cuts to science funds and diminished access to grants and fellowships, especially in non-medical fields. If policies are not urgently drafted and implemented, we risk a significant setback on gender equality in science that might have consequences for generations.

To counteract the aggravation of gender inequality in the post-pandemic academic world, we suggest a few short, medium, and long-term strategies to be implemented immediately, within 1-2 years and five years, respectively. We summarized these strategies in Figure 1.

Figure 1
Strategies to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on academic mothers over time.

Finally, we defend that institutions must consider the needs of their academic mothers on a case-by-case basis. Mothers of children with special needs and/or those who belong to minority groups, including transgender people, people of color and/or with a disability, as well as single parents and mothers without a supportive network, must be embraced by policies and initiatives that guarantee an inclusive working environment.

ACKNOWLEGMENTS

We thank the Kunhã Asé Network of Woman in Science for promoting the discussion that originated the idea of this manuscript and Dr. Ben Phalan for English review. This study was financed in part by the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior - Brasil (CAPES) - Finance Code 001.

REFERENCES

  • ALON T, DOEPKE M, OLMSTEAD-RUMSEY J & TERTILT M. 2020. The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality. NBER 26947: 37. https://doi.org/10.3386/w26947.
  • BLITHE SJ & ELLIOTT M. 2019. Gender inequality in the academy: microaggressions, work-life conflict, and academic rank. J Gend Stud 1–14: https://doi.org/10.1080/09589236.2019.1657004
  • MELNICK H & DARLIN-HAMMOND L. 2020. Reopening Schools in the Context of COVID-19: Health and Safety Guidelines From Other Countries (policy brief). Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute, available at <https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/reopening-schools-covid-19-brief>.
    » https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/reopening-schools-covid-19-brief
  • MYERS KR, THAM WY, YIN Y, COHODES N, THURSBY JG, THURSBY MC, SCHIFFER P, WALSH JT, LAKHANI KR & WANG D. 2020. Unequal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on scientists. Nat Hum Behav 4: 880-883.
  • STANISCUASKI F ET AL. 2020a. Impact of COVID-19 on academic mothers. Science 368: 724-724. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abc2740.
  • STANISCUASKI F ET AL. 2020b. Gender, race and parenthood impact academic productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic: from survey to action. bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abc2740.
  • STOCK JH. 2020. Reopening the coronavirus-closed economy. Tech. rep., Hutchins Center Working Paper, 60: 10. Washington: Booking Institution.

Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    28 Oct 2020
  • Date of issue
    2020

History

  • Received
    14 Aug 2020
  • Accepted
    10 Sept 2020
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