Workplace

Survey: Half of working parents have felt discriminated against during COVID-19

A new survey found that working parents at the VP level are more likely to say they've faced discrimination at work than their lower-level counterparts.

Child sitting on working mother's lap

A new survey looks at discrimination faced by working parents during the pandemic.

Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

The toll COVID-19 has taken on working parents — particularly working moms — is, by now, well-documented. The impact for parents in low-wage jobs has been particularly devastating.

But a new survey, shared exclusively with Protocol, finds that among parents who kept their jobs through the pandemic, people who hold more senior positions are actually more likely to say they faced discrimination at work than their lower-level colleagues.

The survey, conducted by Qualtrics and the online talent marketplace The Boardlist in June, asked 1,225 people over the age of 18 about their work experiences during the pandemic. Overall, 45% of working parents said they'd been discriminated against at work because of their family responsibilities. But that figure was even higher for parents in managerial and VP positions, 54% of whom said they'd experienced discrimination for their familial duties. Only 38% of lower-level employees said the same.

"It's very clear at leadership levels, as you ascend, there's a feeling of backlash, or at a minimum, prejudice for having these responsibilities," said Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder and chair of The Boardlist, which helps companies find potential board members who are women and people of color. The survey results, she said, suggest that while it's obvious working parents in general are looking for more flexibility and support, that doesn't become any less true as they climb the corporate ladder.

Of the working parents who said they'd been discriminated against, 43% said they'd received criticism inside the company and 33% said they'd been passed over for a promotion. Others reported having their leadership responsibilities taken away and being passed over for important projects.

The survey also confirmed what has been a long-running theme in research about parenthood during the pandemic: It found that 75% of working moms said they handled the bulk of child care, while just 62% of working men said the same. Some 58% of moms reported having exclusive responsibility for leading their kids' remote learning, compared to 34% of dads.

This imbalance no doubt contributed to the mass exodus of women from the workforce during the height of lockdown restrictions in the U.S. As the country opens back up and administers more vaccines, there are some signs that trend is receding, with women taking more than 50% of new jobs in May. And yet, women's overall labor force participation in June 2021 remained at a 30-year low.

For Cassidy, who has served on the boards of companies like Ericsson, Tripadvisor and Urban Outfitters, all of this amounts to a reminder that as companies work to bring more women — and particularly parents — into the board room and senior positions in their companies, they have to develop a supportive culture to go along with it. "I think it's very important that boards turn their attention to issues of talent, culture and flexibility, which historically has not been part of the board room," she said.

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