Moms Are Getting Crushed in This Pandemic
Reshma Saujani is one of the country’s most creative activists committed to fighting for women. Her successful advocacy first became evident when she founded Girls Who Code in 2012. Now, Saujani is spearheading a new campaign called A Marshall Plan for Moms, which she spoke about at the Women & Worth Summit in early March. Girls Who Code has trained over 300,000 girls in programming, half from underrepresented groups. Now, Saujani is departing that effective group she founded and turning her sights on a major societal crisis—the current plight of mothers, aiming to address the many ways they have borne the brunt of the year-long pandemic.
Saujani made clear, if anyone doubted it, that the nation’s mothers are suffering. “We’ve lost over two million jobs,” she exclaimed. “Our labor market participation is back where it was in 1989. In less than nine months, we lost 30 years of progress. And twice as many Black and Latina women have lost their jobs.” She said mothers are over-stressed now for two major reasons. First, “the instability of our schools has demonstrated that the foundation of childcare in our country is broken…We’re operating as nannies, as tech support, as cooks, and homeschooling our kids, all while we’re trying to maintain full-time jobs, if we’re fortunate enough to be able to work from home.” And her second reason: “Women are being pushed out of the labor market because so many of us found ourselves in jobs that weren’t pandemic-proof—like education, health care, retail. And many of these jobs are not coming back.”
So, what is the Marshall Plan for Moms? It is a multi-faceted campaign that calls for monthly short-term emergency payments directly to mothers, along with better paid work leave programs, affordable daycare and work retraining. She’s recruited powerful backers. An open letter supporting the plan in January was signed by scores of eminent women, including Eva Longoria, Alyssa Milano, Julianne Moore and Amy Schumer, as well as business leaders like Mindy Grossman, CEO of WW International, and Whitney Wolfe Herd, CEO of Bumble.
Saujani proudly noted that resolutions calling for such a plan have recently been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) and in the Senate by a group of 11 Democratic senators led by Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. The idea is also drawing attention in state legislatures nationwide.
Saujani, a passionate and eloquent advocate, listed some of the reasons mothers need all this: “We’re coming back to the workforce. I want to know what you’re going to do to support me…I want more flexibility. I want to be supported with remote working…I want to root out the motherhood penalty…The way we do performance evaluations should change…We’ve got to demand that workplaces support us as essential workers in this moment, and be unabashed about that.” She added: “We faced a motherhood penalty before this, and we had to hide our kids. Now you’ve seen my kids on the Zoom screen.”
At the moment, said Saujani, who has children ages one and six, “There is no policymaking happening that has us in mind.” Most politicians, she added, “can’t even say the word ‘mother.’” She says the lack of concern for and support for mothers means “society is broken.” She continued: “We have to basically get really fired up about these policies and call for our legislators to vote for them,” adding that this is not a partisan issue and should be supported by both Democrats and Republicans. She did note at least a little progress, though. After Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell recently said the country needed to improve daycare, “we all fell out of our chairs,” she said. “You’ve never heard that before.”
“People can’t afford daycare,” she continued. “I saw an article today that there have been 300,000 less births [during the pandemic]. People are not having kids…That is going to have a disastrous effect on our country. If we actually want people to procreate and have children, we have to support them.”
Finally, she noted that companies, too, have a serious responsibility here. “How are they going to hire?” she asked. “How many mothers have you lost? What’s your plan for hiring them back?” If schools don’t fully open in the fall, “how are you changing your performance measurement? How are you offering flexibility?” She plans soon to offer a “Marshall Plan for Moms Toolkit” to help guide private companies on steps they can take.
The worst consequences are for the moms “barely living on minimum wage.” They are the ones least attended to by society. For them, suffering is hardly too strong a word to describe the ordeal of the past year—helping with kids’ schoolwork, keeping food on the table and seeking to maintain some semblance of personal mental health.
Saujani makes a powerful case. We need action.