Pushing the Boundaries: A Qualitative Study of How STEM Women Adapted to Disrupted Work-Nonwork Boundaries During the COVID-19 Pandemic. By: Kossek, K., Dumas, T., Piszczek, M. & Allen, T. 2021. Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(11), 1615–1629.

National reports widely publicized that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic’s disruption of work–nonwork boundaries impacted women’s careers negatively, as many exited their jobs to manage nonwork demands. We know less about the adaptations made by highly career-invested women to remain in the workforce in occupations where they are extremely under-represented. Based on qualitative data from 763 academic Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) women at 202 universities, we examined adaptation to disrupted work–nonwork boundaries and identified workplace contextual features associated with these adaptations. Results show that STEM women varied in their adaptation. Many women adapted their professional image management approaches: From concealing nonwork roles—particularly when in less supportive contexts, to revealing them—often to challenge existing ideal worker norms and advocate for change. Also, women adapted through varying forms of role sacrifice; trading off one role’s execution for another, mental detachment through psychological role withdrawal, or abandoning role duties through behavioral role exit. Notably, some sacrificed their nonwork roles, although the dominant media narrative highlights women sacrificing work roles. Work contextual features associated with boundary management adaptation include structural support (e.g., flexibility) and social support (e.g., empathy). Results illuminate the complex decisions faced by STEM women when they lose the scaffolding supporting their work–nonwork interface. Moreover, the results have practical and theoretical implications for advancing workforce gender equity, and for supporting all employees’ work–nonwork boundary management.