As the global pandemic enters its second year, research is showing women with children are spending significantly more time in caregiving and housework than their male counterparts. This is true in the corporate and service worlds as it is in academia. This is also true for dual-career couples in which women still bear the larger burden of what is traditionally accepted as “women’s work.” 

Christine Wiedman (MAcc ’88), professor with the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF), highlights the current disparity between genders as it specifically pertains to performance on the job.   

Gender disparity spotlighted by COVID 

With school closures, home-schooling and childcare not as accessible, the roles of women in the workforce are regressing, causing a bigger pipeline problem, Weidman says. 

“We need the representation of women at the higher ranks, including the managerial, executive and board levels and therefore you need to have a good pipeline of women earlier in their career who can be mentored and can work their way into these leadership positions. If you lose women in the earlier stages, this has implications for not just now, but also longer-term,” Wiedman says. “Women are also more sensitive to the optics of their work. Women are afraid of being judged by colleagues when their children walk in on a virtual meeting and having these types of incidences impact negatively on their performance.” 

In the world of academe and thought leadership, there has been a marked decline in research submissions by women in a wide range of fields since the beginning of the pandemic. “Specifically, it is impacting early-stage women,” Wiedman says. “For women who have school-aged children at home and pre-tenure researchers, COVID is hurting them and their ability to publish as primary and contributing authors.”   

Being flexible and providing performance options 

Wiedman, who sits on the SAF faculty performance review advisory committee, along with Professor Ranjini Jha, a member of the SAF tenure & promotion committee, met with and received support from the University of Waterloo’s faculty association equity committee for guidance and deployment of faculty performance and tenure promotion reviews. 

“We realized that pre-tenured women may be hesitant to bring forward the fact that they have been negatively and disproportionately affected by COVID,” Wiedman says. “They don’t want to be judged as not being serious-minded or not caring about their work. We felt that it was pertinent to speak up because women tend not to advocate for themselves.” 

Wiedman and Jha recommended—and the University agreed—that flexibility was needed for faculty performance evaluations for this year in light of the global pandemic. To ensure fairness and consistent implementation across campus, the University deployed guidelines and a number of performance evaluation options for both faculty and staff members. 

“Faculty can choose to be evaluated in the areas of service and/or teaching and/or research,” Wiedman says. She said it was a good move for the University to implement a granular approach and provide options for performance reviews of faculty and staff members. 

This is a win for all University employees, but Wiedman acknowledges that gender disparity doesn’t just affect the field of academia. She hopes that with COVID-19 spotlighting the issue of gender regression and the research that’s been published on this topic, that one of the positive lessons will be an assertive effort in all career fields to eliminate the gender disparity.