Women have had to take on a greater share of household, homeschooling and childcare responsibilities during the pandemic. (UBS)

The latest UBS Investor Watch Pulse Survey found that COVID-19 is causing women to reconsider their finances and careers. While more than half touted the benefits of working from home, four in 10 women said their raises and promotions were on hold and that they were cutting back on work to help kids with school. One in four women said they were thinking of leaving the workforce.

The extraordinary pressure on working women is evident in the national data as well. Over 2 million women have dropped out of the workforce since the pandemic began. The labor force participation rate among mothers with children under 13 plunged 3.4 percentage points between February and October, while dropping 1.4 points for prime-age fathers (ages 25-54), according to an analysis by economists from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Entrenched gender roles, pay gap issues persist

“The idea of work-life balance has been placed out of balance,” says Paula Polito, Vice Chairperson at UBS Global Wealth Management. “Women are having to renegotiate the so-called “double shift” and focus on household and childcare duties. As a result, their careers are taking a back seat.”

It appears that men and women have only further conformed to traditional gender roles during the pandemic. The UBS Survey found that women said they are taking on the greater share of remote schooling, childcare, cleaning and cooking duties. While men also said they took on more household tasks, they were most likely to say they did a greater share of the yard work.

Meanwhile, a stubborn gender pay gap – the average American woman still only makes 80 cents to the dollar that a man earns- makes it more likely that women, when faced with challenges on the home front, will put their spouse’s career first.

Financially vulnerable

Many women may see dropping out of the workforce as temporary, but career breaks can be more costly than expected. According to this calculator from the Center of American Progress, a 38-year old woman earning a salary of $150,000 in 2020, who takes two years off for caregiving would lose $597,031 over her working career, when taking into account the cumulative effect of time off on wages, future earnings growth and lost retirement benefits from missed 401(K) contributions.

What’s more, women have historically not taken an active role in managing their long-term finances, making them even more financially vulnerable. According to a May 2020 UBS Survey, nearly half of women let their spouses take the lead in long-term financial decisions. Surprisingly, this is true even among women who are the primary breadwinners - 41% of women who earn more than their spouses defer financial decisions – and among Millennials.

A lack of confidence and entrenched gender roles have been among the reasons women surveyed by UBS have cited for abdicating investing decisions.

Advocate, not abdicate

However, one silver lining from the pandemic is that women are showing signs of being more engaged. Nearly 70% of women surveyed by UBS said they are discussing money more with their partner and nearly half said they are discussing inheritance with their kids.

"The pandemic has brought a great deal of self-reflection,” says Polito. “I think people played out 'what ifs' in their head, like 'What if something happens to me or my spouse? What happens if I lose my job? As a result, women are clearly more engaged with their money."

But, there is still a gap between intentions and actions. For instance, while 40% indicated in May that they were considering reviewing their financial situation, only 12% have actually done so per the latest survey.

“Perversely the pandemic has served up an opportunity for women to follow up on their intentions with real action on their long-term finances,” according to Polito. “Women should use this wake-up call to take charge of their financial future.”

Choosing to cut back on work or drop out altogether are deeply personal decisions and may not be something we can have control over, as the pandemic has shown. But women can feel more in control when they are engaged with their finances.

UBS developed the Own Your Worth Financial Participation Site for women who want to take that first step. You’ll find tips and tools — created without jargon or complexity—to help you make your first "money move."

Visit ubs.com/mymoneymove to learn more.

Main contributor: Shanthi Bharatwaj