WOMEN BEAR A DISPROPORTIONATE SHARE of childcare responsibilities, and are often discouraged from bringing that part of their life with them to work. The pandemic has exacerbated these challenges.
According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, 57% of working mothers say that coping with childcare during the COVID-19 crisis has been difficult; 50% have had to reduce their work hours; 22% say they’ve been treated as if they weren’t committed to their work; and 13% have been passed over or turned down for a promotion. The percentages for working dads? All lower—or much lower.
Companies that have declared their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) should pay attention to these figures. The question is, on a practical level, what can they do to better support working mothers?
A good starting point is making the effort to understand the balancing act that working mothers perform daily––especially while working from home, says Noelle Johnson, a career success coach at NexGenT, an Austin, Texas-based accelerated bootcamp for those exploring careers in IT networking or cybersecurity. She also runs her own career services and DEI training firms. “Sometimes, with virtual school, a kid might come up and ask a question in the middle of a meeting, and that shouldn’t be something that causes great shame,” says Johnson, who has a 5-year-old son with special needs. “I’ve heard a manager say, ‘If you’re going to be in a meeting, then you need to make sure that they’re in the other room. Make sure your door is locked.’ That doesn’t really work.”
Instead, employers need to be empathetic and ask what would help with work/life balance, advises Amy Cronshaw, CEO and founder of London-based Beyond Workplace Consulting. Not only do these conversations give companies a better understanding of working mothers’ challenges, they also contribute to employee engagement. “It will result in people wanting to stay with your company for a longer period of time because they feel valued; they feel listened to,” she says.
Once people start heading back to the office as the pandemic eases, working mothers may still want the flexibility of working from home a few days a week or a restructured work week (such as Friday afternoons off in exchange for starting earlier on other days). “There are ways of doing it without having a cost impact, and it can have a huge impact on peoples’ lives,” Cronshaw says, adding that SMBs are well positioned to offer this flexibility, because they can provide it on a case-by-case basis rather than rolling out a standardized, enterprise-level program.