Burned out by coronavirus, millions of U.S. women want to quit work

NEW YORK, Sept 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One in four U.S. working women is thinking about slowing their careers or quitting the workforce altogether because of COVID-19, research showed on Wednesday, a trend that could erase progress women have made in the ranks of business.

Women said they felt burned out, with many doing double duty on the job and at home due to the new coronavirus pandemic, in a survey by LeanIn.Org, a U.S.-based women's rights group, and McKinsey & Company, a global consultancy.

Companies risk seeing an exodus of women from their top ranks, undoing years of female management gains, the groups said, after surveying 40,000 employees at 317 firms about women in the workforce and the impact of COVID-19.

"If one in four women who are thinking about leaving the workforce do, it will wipe out all the gains at all levels of management," said Rachel Thomas, LeanIn.Org's co-founder and chief executive.

"We will literally lose millions of women ... this is a real wake-up call that women are more likely to consider downshifting their careers," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In the last six years, women as senior vice presidents have grown to 28% from 23%, and women in the so-called C-suite of senior executive jobs - with chief in their title - have risen to 21% from 17%, the report said.

But it found senior-level women are 1.5 times more likely than men to be thinking about downshifting their careers, and almost three out of four cited burnout as their reason, saying they felt pressured to work more and to be "always on."

Black women were less likely than women overall to say their managers foster an inclusive environment and more likely than other employees to feel uncomfortable sharing their personal views with colleagues, the research found.

"Black women are having a particularly worse experience because they face more barriers, get less support and are promoted more slowly," Thomas said.

"So the workplace is less hospitable to Black women on a good day, and then you take on top of that they're disproportionately affected by COVID-19."

The rate of COVID-19 infection among Black Americans has been 2.6 times higher than among white Americans, and the death rate more than twice as high, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The survey also found that mothers were three times more likely than fathers to be responsible for most of the housework and childcare during COVID-19.

Mothers also were twice as likely as fathers to worry that their job performances were being judged negatively because of their caregiver duties, it said. (Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)