Utah women report fewer career advancement opportunities amid COVID-19

Jeni Larsen, a third grade teacher at Parkview Elementary School in Salt Lake City, teachers her students remotely on the first day of school on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

(Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on, more research shows that its economic impact could be felt for years to come and take significant recovery time, in particular when it comes to women.

According to a new qualitative brief from the Utah Women and Leadership Project, which has been studying the impact COVID-19 has had on Utah women, career advancement challenges have been common among the state's women.

A total of 59% of the women respondents said the pandemic negatively impacted their career advancement — a number that's left researchers concerned for the "longer-term implications on women's career advancement," the report notes.

Of the 3,542 women who completed the survey, 2,744 took the time to fill out answers to the open-ended questions. Susan Madsen, director of the project, noted it's important to put the findings into context, considering the sampling underrepresented some key groups in the state, including women of color and lower-income women with less formal education.

These experiences aren't exclusive to women; however, national research shows that women are more likely to be employed in affected industries and therefore have disproportionately experienced negative economic impacts from COVID-19, Madsen explained.

By far, the most widespread issue respondents reported was the feeling of being put on hold because of the pandemic.

"It feels as though the pandemic has been a large 'HOLD' button on career advancement," wrote one woman. "Until it is over, it feels like survival."

Others agreed, saying surviving was their main priority, not moving up in their jobs.

"I'm so focused on dealing with the daily upheaval that I can't even comprehend what career advancement experiences would look like," wrote another respondent.

It feels as though the pandemic has been a large 'HOLD' button on career advancement. Until it is over, it feels like survival.

–Project respondent

While Madsen and her team were thrilled to get a large number of respondents for the research, there are still countless other women facing these struggles who didn't take the survey.

"When that many struggle that just took the survey, then you can expand … and you can see that everybody has really struggled in some way or another," she said.

Being in-person makes it easier for employees to connect with employers, though women often struggle with fading into behind-the-seen roles even in person. But remotely, Madsen said the issue has grown.

"Women really have to work hard to make sure they're seen (and) their work is seen, because a lot of times we're behind the scenes," she explained. "Men tout their own stuff a lot more than women; naturally, women, we get hit down if we tout our stuff because we're breaking social norms."

Remote working has been a lifesaver for many, but it does come with some downsides, Madsen said. Many women expressed that the lack of face-to-face opportunities at work made them feel more invisible and forgotten.

"Being remote full time, it feels like I'm not seen or heard, leading me to feel less valued. … I have to jump at every opportunity to prove my worth," Madsen said some of the women described their situation.


A Qualtrics and theBoardlist study from August found that women found remote work more detrimental to their career than men, with 57% of men saying it had actually been positive, whereas only 27% of women agreed.

Parents were disproportionately impacted as well, with 34% of fathers saying they had been promoted during the pandemic whereas only 9% of working mothers said the same.

May's research brief from the women and leadership project also found that women were giving up career advancement for their families during the pandemic more than before. As children began remote school or homeschooling, mothers bore the brunt of the burden, research shows.

A total of 7.5% of respondents said they had given up promotions, raises and other opportunities to care for children. To most in this category, they valued employer flexibility more than advancement opportunities.

"I am hesitant to accept opportunities for advancement due to concern that I won't be able to manage increased responsibilities at work in addition to family responsibilities," one woman said.

The data also found that women reported planned raises and promotions were paused by employers, and others disappeared altogether. As one woman explained: "Due to the pandemic and remote work, expected promotions were postponed indefinitely along with the pay increase that was expected with it. I have experienced a disconnect with my employer on many levels."

Additionally, hundreds reported they were actually working more for less pay as responsibilities had piled on but compensation lagged. In some cases, employers didn't rehire positions and instead moved the work over to other members of the team.

"A few employees had quit at my company and, due to financial concerns, my company chose not to rehire for those positions and instead asked me to absorb their jobs without an increase in pay," a respondent said.


This phenomenon of an increased workload for less pay was felt especially by teachers who took the survey, as they were forced to quickly adapt to online and in-person teaching methods in a quick time frame.

While some felt their jobs became more difficult and opportunities at work waned, others lost work altogether or were forced to close their own businesses.

One woman who works as a child care provider said she lost almost all of her business since her clients could keep their children at home as they transitioned to remote work.

Another woman who works in the salon industry reported she has at least half of her business and several others have left the industry altogether.

As earlier research in this series of briefs had shown, women are feeling burnout and suffering from adverse mental health impacts at an alarming rate.

Of the women surveyed, 1 in 3 reported COVID-19 increased stress, 1 in 5 said their job was harder to do, and others said they were hanging by a thread and only able to meet minimum requirements at work due to increased responsibility at home.

"Most of 2020 was spent in survival mode. I feel like I'm starting to recover, but it will take time before I'm fully thriving again," one woman said.

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Lauren Bennett is a reporter with KSL.com who covers Utah’s religious community and the growing tech sector in the Beehive State.


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