Life under lockdown: Report on the impact of COVID-19 on professional women’s unpaid work

Three photos. Photo 1: An upset white woman in business attire in a kitchen talking to her three small children. Photo 2: A black woman in business attire sitting in front of a computer looking overwhelmed. Photo 3: A  white woman sitting with an old man with a cane. The woman has a caring hand over the man's shoulder.

This report jointly issued with Professional Women’s Network Norway summarizes our findings from surveying 1,312 professional women – mainly residents in the US and Europe – about their effort towards unpaid work (household chores, schooling or nursing, and caregiving) both in 2019 and during the lockdowns in April-May 2020.

The analysis revealed that professional women in the 36 to 45 age group are burned out as a consequence of the significant increase in their unpaid work. This holds especially true for full-time professional women in top positions and for those with both schooling/nursing and caregiving responsibilities.

The COVID-19 lockdowns affected the amount of unpaid work and leisure time of professional women in very different ways, depending on variables such as their age, job status, and country of residence. These results corroborated that the common practice of reporting female unpaid work as average values is misleading.

63% of professional women with both caregiving and schooling/nursing responsibilities reported shouldering most of the domestic work with only 22% reporting an egalitarian share of the additional household chores during the pandemic.

During the lockdowns, professional women across France, Italy, Spain, the UK, the US, and Slovenia bore the brunt of increased household chores.

With the exception of professional women living in Norway and Slovenia, respondents in all other countries reported an overall decrease in the leisure time during lockdowns.

The respondents lost approximately an annual income of €5,899 for unpaid household, schooling/nursing, and caregiving work in 2019. During the lockdowns, this increased to €13,266/year.

The report provides food for thought for individuals, employers, and governmental organizations to support working women with integrating work and family life.

This is what professional women told us…

The biggest challenge is that work creeps in during the early hours of the morning and even the evenings. Since I’ve been working from home, holidays haven’t been the same either. It is more challenging to set boundaries now.

I already have a reduction for my working time and my salary, so I have more time to spend on leisure and development activities.

I’m starting to prefer this lifestyle.”

It’s too hard and difficult work at telecommuting home, with children and housework , cook too much  and supermarket, there is no privacy or evasion it is nonstop day, we do not have the houses ready, but we are learning to do it.

I am BURNED OUT! My kids are at the young age where I don’t need to worry about their academic progress. So, I just park them in front of the TV while working 10-12 hour days. Not proud of it, but that’s the state of things. My kids’ social skills are taking a big hit. I’m not worried about my job, but I am worried about my kids’ social and emotional development.

“I’m learning and growing so much. Because I may have to change jobs, I’m nervous that I won’t be able to work in the profession I prefer (volunteer engagement) – and this area has seen an increase in professional growth in the last month during the pandemic’s stay-at-home-order in my state.

My husband makes less than me and is staying home with our children. I still perform the majority of the household tasks, while also working full-time in a much more stressful situation than before.

“It has given me time to reflect on the importance of professional vs/ personal life.

“The company is expecting us to have less work to do so is piling up with unnecessary extra virtual meetings and teleconferences. Local management forced us to take some paid leave half days and then request to work anyway during those hours. They also expect to reach you beyond standard working hours and ping you even in lunch breaks.”

“I started freelancing in February. Fortunately I got a project which was about to start in March. With the lockdown everything went for a toss. I am no longer getting any enquiries nor any source of income is open for me. Being an Interior Designer it’s difficult to work and post pandemic I am clueless how am I going to get work.”

“My husband whilst he’s stepping up, his childcare responsibilities haven’t been discussed at work. An assumption all round that wife picks up the slack”

“This allowed to develop my own micro business.”


I can do more leisure time because I do not spend 3 hours per day for traveling to the job place.

We have taken on caregiving for my mother-in-law … she’s recovering from a stay in the hospital and needs 24×7 attention.  Life (and work) now evolve around her.”

“My husband has understood much better my job and how demanding it is. WFH Increased my working hours. It is difficult to disconnect from work.”

“The social distancing has a very positive impact on me.”

“Social distancing is absurd.”

“It feels like I’m in a limbo”

Working from home has meant that the boundaries between ‘the work day’ and home/leisure time has basically disappeared. On the other hand, I’m finding it much easier to create systems and set boundaries in place in certain areas through pure necessity! It’s much harder to put things off when you’re in the same space working every day.

“We’re basically combining 3 jobs: professional, mother, housekeeper. It’s do-able for a short amount of time. But if schools remain closed until September, I’m foreseeing lots of burn-outs…”

“More active than I have been in years.”

“For my employer, working from home seems to be a 24/7 job. The demands are enormous, in addition to all the additional household tasks, not being able to have our cleaner come support us, keeping on top of my son’s school work and encouraging him to get some activity instead of being on screens all the time (and the arguments that result). The stress is enormous and I don’t feel like this is sustainable. I may have to take a leave from work, I don’t know.”

I am the primary breadwinner and remain so. Nevertheless, my partner ends up doing lesser than before the pandemic. The nature of my work doesn’t support teleworking so the pandemic has left me doing nearly all the work around home. It’s frustrating that I spend all my time cleaning, cooking, and preparing for our upcoming relocation because of my job, while he enjoys more leisure time because he no longer has to commute.

“Battle fears, concern and sadness while also having to work in zoom/virtual environment. it’s a lot.”

“I have worked from home for the past 14 years, so that is not different. What is different for me is now I have my two teenagers at home all day – and one who needs me to be her primary instructor for several hours per day. My husband is also home all day, and we worked out a way for him to still continue his business using online tools, but he is SO LOUD. The quiet time I had to focus is a thing of the past. I’ve seen the time I need to do my work shrink significantly. And my industry has also been hit very hard – events industry and public speaking, so income is down.”

“My overwhelming brain it’s derailing and destroying my motivation: how many challenges, efforts and responsibilities may a woman by herself handle before loosing the will to go ahead? This is so unfair and it hurts.”

“Stress and too many simultaneous tasks (professional and family) have a very negative and exhausting effect, I must abandon the projects that most motivated me.”

“We are working 7 days of the week.”

“Yes, it would be great if you include questions for single mothers. Being a single mother and a professional freelancer in the pandemic times is another horror story worthy to be told.”

“I don’t know how much time I exactly time spend doing housework or nursing but, I can tell you that before the lockdown, I was able to focus on my career, on my job, and had leisure time. Now I have to work from 8AM to 8PM switching between tasks halfway like cooking, taking care of my 11-month baby boy, and cleaning. Even sharing all the common work with my partner, isn’t possible. I’m exhausted and angry because I can’t do my job the way I used to, and can’t focus like before!

“Employer does not recognise difficulty of working at home whilst in charge of small children”

“I suspect that my male boss is treating me differently than other employees who are not known to have children at home – he likely is trying to be helpful but does not make time for, nor is skilled at, understanding individual needs for personal/professional adjustments.”

“I work as a voice talent, I’ve been more busy now than in the last 3 month of 2019..”

“I work even more from home, the problem is that mostly during the nights and weekends :(“

“My position was eliminated April 2nd despite a profitable month. My clients also were stolen from me.”

“Working from home without a proper office has resulted in a painful repetitive stress injury that would be avoidable with proper office furniture.”

“Somehow, the digital meetings favour talkative men. Women are definitely overlooked and made invisible – I have actually done informal statistics during all group Meetings. Men are given more time, they are more often encouraged («good job!») and receive acclamations for actually repeating the point from the previous female talker (whereby she was overlooked).”

I can’t perform my professional duties as I’m a working mother of two under three-year-olds. Breastfeeding our youngest means that I’m the natural caregiver and provider, and so my time is naturally cut. Plus I’m in the academic sector so the face-to-face demands of my job have been reduced, so my partner’s work takes precedence. Both children went to nursery but now neither of us have time for ourselves to consider professional development, let alone have leisure time!

“I feel more vulnerable and increasing my financial dependency on my husband who is an employee with monthly salary versus myself being self employed for 6 years now.”

“If I did not have a regular salary, I would be in a panic. As it is, I am cut off from management and don’t get any sense they care about my situation. There is no leadership. There is just a reactive series of memos. They are not engaged or aware. There is no Governor Cuomo here.”

“It’s difficult to manage is professional life at home with our family and husband. My normal professional life miss me.”

“My workload has stayed the same, the increased volume of training “opportunities” is causing more stress because I don’t have time to take them.”

“Working from home is a huge challenge to my productivity. Not because of children. Because I chose to work in a busy office environment because that is where I am most productive. I find it hard to stay motivated and productive when working from home. Also I resent my office physically invading my home.”

“Strong incentive to learn new skills and to see new horizons!!!”

“Yes, the pandemic hit while I was going through fertility treatment. I took time off work for that which was all in vain as the treatment was cancelled at the last minute after taking months of medications. Now, I will have to go through all that again at an unknown time in the future, meaning I will miss more work again. Fertility treatment is bad for your career at the best of times (time off, inability to commit to projects/work travel/leading projects etc.), but it is all exacerbated during this pandemic.”


The authors thank

  • The Professional Women’s Network Global and the City Networks who helped distribute the survey among their members.
  • Individuals, organizations, and social networks groups that promoted the survey.
  • Alojz Tapajner, Andrei Caracoti for their contribution to this report.
  • Dassault Systèmes for the use of BIOVIA Pipeline Pilot 2020 for the automation of the data reporting and visualisation.

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Thanks to all the professional women that participated in this survey and shared with us their COVID-19 lockdown experiences.

I hope we’ve honored their trust with this report.

#COVID-19 #GenderEquality #Lockdown #WomenInBusiness

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