Impact of COVID-19 on academic mothers

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Science  15 May 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6492, pp. 724
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc2740

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COVID-19 stay-at-home orders could exacerbate challenges faced by mothers in academia.


As daily life grinds to a halt worldwide in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, professionals are adjusting to a new reality of remote working. For many researchers, the release from teaching and administrative activities means more time for independent work. In contrast, parents of young children for whom school has been cancelled are facing uniquely challenging responsibilities. Although academic fathers are not immune to the impacts of confinement, it is traditionally women who carry the heaviest load (1, 2).

These women risk suffering yet another motherhood penalty. Instead of writing papers, they are likely to devote time to homeschooling children and doing household chores. For those who have not yet leaked from the pipeline (3) and are struggling to keep their careers on track, these months of heavier duties may increase the distance between them and their male and childless peers.

Gender inequality in science is an urgent issue, and motherhood plays a major role in it (4). Recent years have witnessed the emergence of many initiatives that ignited changes toward addressing this problem [e.g., (58)]. We cannot allow this pandemic to reverse advances and further deepen the gender gap in science.

Policies and actions to mitigate the motherhood penalty can benefit all scientists. Deadlines for grant proposals, reports, and renewal requests must be postponed. Funding agencies should consider creating granting programs designed around the reality of academics with families. By instituting more flexible policies, we can make science fairer for everyone affected by the pandemic.

  • The movement consists of all listed authors. There are no additional authors or collaborators.

References and Notes

  1. Parent in Science (www.parentinscience.com).
  2. Mothers in Science (www.mothersinscience.com).
  3. Mama Is an Academic (https://mamaisanacademic.wordpress.com/).

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