Working women need more supports

March 17, 2021
by Lori Lennon

Women huddled around a laptop during a meeting in conference room. Photo Credit: Christina @

Featured in CommonWealth Magazine

Mid-March marks the moment many of us were sequestered into our homes as a result of the coronavirus. We all made significant changes in our lives, and the lives of our children, to help stop the significant spread of the virus.

As a result of this seismic shift, many individuals began to struggle with a work-life balance, and that is especially true for women. Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent op-ed in the Washington Post painted a stark picture of how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women. The numbers don’t lie: 2.5 million women have lost their jobs or dropped out of the workforce because of the pandemic. Five million women were business owners in February 2020; one in four of these women had to close their doors by April 2020.

As founder and CEO of an organization that aims to elevate the profiles of women in science, I have had countless conversations with women who have pursued a career in science. I have seen the mountains of challenges women are plowing through to make home, work, and career all possible. This pandemic isn’t the start of these challenges, of course. It has merely accelerated and further highlighted the work that needs to be done to build systems and supports to help women succeed in the society we live in—a system that has been built for men to succeed.

Here’s an example. When I ran for office, part of the job was to knock on doors, meet voters, and talk about platform issues. I was excited to talk about science policy, creating opportunities for affordable childcare, transportation, and, my specialty, communication. Instead of getting the hard-hitting questions I anticipated, I was peppered with inquiries such as, “What are you other than a mom?” or “What are you going to do with your daughter when you are at work?”

As a young mother working in a newsroom, I lost thousands of dollars in daycare due to shifts changes and was told these were the challenges of a working mother.

I have been paid less than my male counterparts serving in similar roles and spent a large part of my career fighting for job growth and titles when men within the same organizations could slide a proposal across the table and get the promotion they wanted.

When building my own business focused on the sciences, I was determined to level the playing field, providing a platform and programs that support women in science in a holistic and meaningful way – a philosophy that lifts women up and doesn’t jam them into a male mold or model of success. This desire to make a change was further cemented by the conversations about the needs women in science truly have.

Vice President Harris is shining a light on a critical issue in our country and around the world. Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and now we as a nation need to help amend this.

I’ve spent countless hours on calls with women who are trying to manage (and teach) kids, run labs, maintain their research, keep up committee work, provide mentorship, secure grant funding, and teach. The task is impossible, but these women, despite the odds, are getting it done. We’ve shared tears, frustrations, and countless interruptions (some happy and joyful others not so much). We’re all trying to stay afloat, but right now, when women generally still carry much of the responsibilities at home, we have to look at how we can support and elevate women, and in my sphere, women in science.

A recent study revealed the true impact the pandemic has had on women in science, citing that COVID-19 papers with a woman as the first author were 19 percent lower than for papers published in the same journal a year earlier, and let’s not get started about tenure.

Until we have systems and measures put in place that consider the needs and lives of men and women equally, organizations need to consider other options, such as providing resources to help with advocating and promoting their women, not just through workshops and trainings, but by providing a person or team to help do the work.

Women in science cannot be asked to find any more time in their day. What organizations and institutions should really be asking is:

  • What can we do to support the women who are struggling during this time (or any time, for that matter)?
  • What company structures have we embraced that don’t consider women and their success?
  • What is the retention rate (and success rate) of women within our organization and when, if at all, are women experiencing lags in funding, stalled promotions, and/or institutional biases that prevent growth?

As vaccinations continue across the country and as we begin to talk about what a post-pandemic life will look like, it is critical the information and data collected on women in science and the impact the pandemic has had on their careers are used to start making smart, empathetic, and meaningful change on what supporting women should truly look like now and in the future.