Reflecting on Sister Scholars: Untangling Issues of Identity as Women in Academe, a book I co-edited with Dean Ellyn Lyle, prompted a set of mixed emotions.
At the time I wrote my chapter, Renegotiating Motherhood in Academe, the world was in early pandemic shock and many of us were reminded that life, particularly motherhood, was not going according to our plans. Reading my own words reminds me once again that I am privileged to be able to pursue both motherhood and my career, an option that is not available to many women, particularly during the pandemic.
In my chapter, I discuss how women have long struggled to choose between their careers and motherhood, mostly because societies have failed to encourage women in both roles concurrently. Since women began leaving their homes to undertake professional roles that were historically reserved for men, a single question echoes more loudly that the rest: can women excel at both?
Societies often tell women that they can have it all: a career; a well-supported family; and time for personal interests and self-care. However, the reality of balancing a career and motherhood often discredits this theory. Struggling to find even a tenuous balance between motherhood, an academic career, and time for self leaves many women feeling guilty as they strive to succeed in male-dominated arenas. When a woman chooses to become a mother, it often means an added responsibility that she must integrate into her existing roles as a wife, professional, and homemaker.
The coronavirus pandemic presented further challenges and obstacles for working mothers who were forced to assume new roles and shoulder tremendous responsibilities in addition to what they were already doing and managing. Between quarantining, social distancing, testing, masking, vaccinating, and assisting children with virtual and remote learning, they had to balance their work responsibilities.
Recent studies have shown that, in the early pandemic, women were hit the hardest by the initial wave of pandemic job losses, and the majority of these women were working mothers. With school and daycare centre closures and no longer being able to bring caretakers and grandparents to their homes, mothers were forced to leave their jobs (Dang & Cuong, 2020; Yavorsky et al., 2021).
Further studies show the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women academics, highlighting new gender gaps in publishing. Data shows that during the first wave of pandemic, women academics who were in the early stages of their career submitted fewer manuscripts to academic journals than men (Reese et al., 2021; Skinner et al, 2021). In addition to the challenges I discussed in my chapter, these recent studies highlight new obstacles that women academics face since the onset of the pandemic.
There is no doubt that the pandemic magnified global gender inequalities and brought to light the many challenges that working mothers face, but it also reaffirmed that mothers are resilient.
This Mother’s Day is a great opportunity to celebrate the resilience and courage of mothers, and reflect on their remarkable ability to continue to navigate challenging times.
Happy Mother’s Day to all our Yorkville faculty, staff, and student mothers.
– Sepideh Mahani is the Associate Dean and the Chair of Education Leadership in the Master of Education program at Yorkville University. She holds degrees in Education Leadership (Ph.D. and MEd), Political Science (BA), and Teaching English to Foreign Learners (TEFL). Sepideh has over 15 years of experience teaching at tertiary and K–12 levels in both traditional and online settings, as well as being a consultant to various government agencies. Her research interests span a wide range of issues including education leadership and public policy, diversity in education, first-generation students, gender equality in education, and cultural relevant and responsive pedagogy. For her research, see https://yorkvilleu.academia.edu/SepidehMahani