Unanticipated Side Effects: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Working Women

Women in corporate careers face difficult choices amid the global pandemic. Balancing work, family and money may feel impossible, but before you make any major career moves, you should know you may have more options than you think.

A mom in a business suit and briefcase gets her daughter ready for school.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged individuals and families around the globe, with a disproportionately large burden falling on the shoulders of working women. This ongoing crisis has exacerbated demands on women who juggle the responsibilities of a career with a primary caregiver role at home. According to a recent report from LeanIn.org and McKinsey, one in four women have considered “downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce" due to lack of flexibility at work, housework and caregiving burdens and burnout.

Every situation is unique, and the decision to make a career change is a deeply personal and individual one. Women who are contemplating taking a step back from work should consider carefully evaluating the financial implications of this shift, consulting with their partners about how it will affect their families, and seeking guidance from a financial adviser about the impact on their long-term financial plans.

Steps to take before ‘stepping back’ from work

Before moving forward with a career exit or major downshift, there may be smaller steps you can take to alleviate the pressures of balancing work and family — both financially and otherwise.

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For starters, reaching out to your employer to discuss your concerns may yield a modified working arrangement that meets your needs, such as reduced hours or flex time. You may also be entitled to benefits or other resources to help reduce feelings of burnout and financial anxiety. Keep in mind that research shows companies where women are well-represented in leadership roles are 50% more likely to outperform than their peers — in other words, you may have more negotiating power than you think.

In addition, now is a good time to reassess your long- and short-term goals for your career, finances and personal fulfillment, as well as to write them down, if you have not recently done so. Having a clear sense of what you want to accomplish in various areas of your life will help ensure that the decisions you’re making align with those goals. (Research also shows that people who put their goals in writing are more likely to accomplish them.)

From a financial standpoint, there may be budget adjustments within your control that will make reducing hours at work more financially feasible. Take stock of the cash flow basics: your income vs. your spending, where the money is going each month, and where you can easily reduce expenses.

Contemplating a career change from every angle

If leaving the workforce or scaling back to a part-time role still feels like the best solution, it’s important to examine the complex implications of that decision for your personal life, your career and your finances. While it is most often women who make changes in their professional lives in response to COVID-19, involving your spouse or partner in your plans is crucial. Both parties need to understand your household’s current financial situation, your collective goals, and the pros and cons of your decisions. Contemplating these questions, and talking them through with your spouse or partner can help prepare you for what will likely be a significant shift on multiple fronts:

  • If you are in a two-income household, is your partner’s income sufficient to support your family’s needs?
  • If you decide to shift to part-time work, will that change or reduce access to benefits you and your family receive from your employer (health insurance, group life or disability insurance, or a 401(k) match)?
  • Can you still afford to contribute the same amount to your retirement account if your income is reduced?
  • If you quit your job or cut back to part-time, how will the resulting reduction in income impact your long-term financial security and future Social Security benefits?
  • Should you decide to return to the workforce in the future, how will taking time away affect your career?
  • Is there an opportunity to stay engaged in your career and professional network via freelancing or consulting work?
  • Will stepping away from your job lead to feelings of resentment or regret? Are there other areas of your life from which you derive a sense of purpose and fulfillment?

How your financial adviser can help

Before making any major decisions, you may also want to loop in your financial adviser to help you evaluate your options in the context of your long-term financial plan. An adviser who understands what you’re trying to accomplish, your current financial circumstances, and your long-term goals can walk you through different courses of action and establish a plan to move forward. I’ve found that for many people, having a plan goes a long way in alleviating stress and anxiety around financial issues.

Speaking of having a plan, it’s also important to keep in mind that financial planning is not a one-time exercise, but an ongoing, dynamic process. You should check in periodically with your adviser, let them know of any significant changes in your life as they happen, and adjust your long-term financial plan as often as needed. In addition, your financial adviser can be a valuable resource in ways that go beyond answering your financial questions. Believe it or not, due to an adviser’s vast network, they can help clients do everything from finding attorneys to review new employment contracts and updating estate planning documents to collaborating with eldercare experts and long-term care specialists, and more.

For women balancing careers and families, the COVID-19 pandemic has piled additional burdens onto plates that were already full. No matter how you ultimately navigate these challenges, taking stock of all your options, involving your partner and your financial adviser in planning, and making decisions that are rooted in your long-term goals can help ensure the best possible outcomes for you and your family.


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Kathleen Kenealy, CFP®, CPWA®
Senior Wealth Adviser, Boston Private, an SVB company

Kathleen Kenealy, CFP®, CPWA® is the Director of Financial Planning and a senior wealth adviser for Boston Private, an SVB company. She specializes in working with successful individuals and families to manage, protect and grow their assets. Kenealy provides guidance on investment, retirement, philanthropic, estate and tax-planning strategies.