Recent peer-reviewed research documents the dire situation facing working parents, mothers in particular, during the pandemic. American women have long worked a “second shift” — joining the labor market in ever-increasing numbers but continuing to do more household tasks, childrearing and eldercare. Caregivers now face the impossible with schools and daycares reducing hours or closing outright. In response, surveys reveal women downshifting to part time or leaving the workforce altogether. Among faculty, post-pandemic studies reveal that women are producing fewer research papers than men.
The day-to-day difficulties of juggling work and family are visible in tweets from our own community during the #YaleKidin, a virtual sit-in last month. Yale has called for department chairs and managers to be “flexible,” but the result has been widely varying accommodations. Based on our conversations with colleagues around campus, it is clear that some department chairs have reduced teaching and service expectations for junior faculty. Some managers are doing everything they can to ease the burden on staff, taking into account “extra” work spurred by the pandemic and allowing flexible hours. Others have done nothing.
The bottom line? We are only beginning to see the effects of this global health crisis on working parents. The consequences of COVID-19, gendered and otherwise, are too significant to be left to the discretion of individual chairs and managers. Untenured faculty and staff should not be required to ask for special treatment from deans and supervisors. Without bold action by employers such as Yale, progress on gender equity could be decimated for decades to come.
The Yale Childcare Consultative Committee is a coalition that includes leaders from the Women Faculty Forum, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate, Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine, Working Women’s Network, Yale postdoctoral associations and UNITE HERE Local 34. We are deeply appreciative of the collaborative efforts made by Provost Scott Strobel and FAS Dean Tamar Gendler to address these issues, and we offer the following additional suggestions.
- Yale must do more to address workloads during this unprecedented crisis by offering detailed, clear guidance to department chairs and managers about what it means to be “flexible” about when and where work happens. For faculty, it could include reducing teaching loads and class sizes when possible, as well as postponing non-essential service. For staff, it could include flexible hours, a compressed work week and focusing on completed tasks rather than how long they take.
- Yale should join peer institutions in creating a special category of “COVID days” providing paid time off for COVID-induced sickness and/or caregiving. Many employees have already burned through sick leave and paid time off due to COVID-19, and Yale does not currently offer any additional “COVID days” despite the fact that the disease can cause illness for weeks or months. Offering additional paid time off will reduce the pressure to show up for work or send children to daycare when they might be ill. We advocate that Yale offer up to 90 “COVID days” through June 2021.
- Before the pandemic, there was already a child care crisis at Yale. Offering a few spaces at Bodel and Bright Horizons is not sufficient; many people cannot afford them or cannot commute there easily. Administrators said in a September email that they are exploring the possibility of additional child care on campus if there is sufficient demand. We strongly encourage Yale to prioritize the creation of affordable, high-quality child care on central campus to serve faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate students now and in the future. First steps might include issuing a request for proposals from local providers to establish new centers and designating child care space in new building projects.
- Working parents have deeply appreciated Yale’s Crisis Care Assist emergency program. It was recently increased from 20 to 25 days, but people need to be able to plan ahead. Yale should expand the Crisis Care Assist program to 50 days through June 2021. If this benefit cannot be secured through Bright Horizons, Yale should consider direct cash subsidies for child care costs.
- Tenure-track faculty are both grateful and conflicted about Yale’s offer to extend the tenure clock. While that option provides more time to complete research before review, many are concerned about a concomitant rise in expectations, especially those that do not take into account women’s often-greater caregiving burdens. Moreover, it is not just parents who do not have much time for research, as the workload of teaching and service has increased during the pandemic. We urge Yale to incorporate clear guidance to tenure review committees about assessing productivity during this pandemic year and give junior faculty the opportunity to include a “COVID statement” about interrupted research. Further, all junior faculty should be provided with one additional semester of paid research leave (or two course releases) prior to tenure. Work/life balance also remains difficult for tenured women, so perhaps a process could be instituted through which anyone suffering from research setbacks due to COVID-related caregiving can request research leave.
- Postdoctoral scholars are experiencing stalled professional progress and additional financial burdens due to unexpected child care costs, especially because they are less likely to have extended support systems locally. Postdoc parents hired on limited appointments or those running short on funding are particularly vulnerable. We ask that postdocs receive a stipend to help cover child care costs, have the opportunity to extend their appointments (like junior faculty and many graduate students) and be able to apply for additional funds to support interrupted research.
- After completely freezing managerial and professional salaries in the spring, Yale recently announced that full-time M&P staff making less than $85,000 per year would receive a 1.5 percent raise. However, in line with national trends, many women M&Ps have ratcheted back to part time due to pandemic-related child care demands. They will miss out on this crucial increase in salary, which could further contribute to the gender wage gap. Yale should expand the 1.5 percent salary adjustment to all M&P staff.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Connecticut, and daycares and schools closing down, the effects of the pandemic are growing more severe every day. The time has come for Yale to adopt comprehensive and, importantly, structural policies to address the enormous pressure on caregivers during this time.
NAOMI ROGERS is chair of Women Faculty Forum and professor of history at Yale. STACEY BONET is co-chair of Working Women’s Network and senior administrative assistant at the Yale School of Public Health . RENE ALMELING is associate professor of sociology at Yale. This op-ed was written on behalf of the Yale Childcare Consultative Committee. Contact them at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.