Updated: Sep 3, 2021
As a working parent, the demands on you during this pandemic have been unfair and unrealistic—and unprecedented. And women have especially felt the harsh effects of COVID-19.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, over 2.3 million women have left the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic. In December 2020, “women lost a total of 156,000 jobs, while men gained 16,000 jobs.” As if this isn’t striking enough, according to McKinsey, “[o]ne in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to Covid-19.” In one year alone, gender and pay equity in the workplace has been set back ten years, according to the World Economic Forum.
I’m sure you can guess the reasons for the mass exodus of women from their jobs over the last year. Lack of childcare. Remote schooling. Loss of employment or furloughs. Caring for an elderly parent or COVID-susceptible family member. It breaks my heart to see the impacts to these families and frightening to consider the long-term adverse effects on equity in the workplace.
This is the time for managers to support not just working parents but working mothers. Employers can and should be flexible to keep you on the team. Today, this is more possible than ever before.
The global pandemic forced us all to work differently, with many working from home for the first time while heavily impacting working parents who needed to juggle full-time work, being Zoom-ready throughout the day, and handling childcare and online schooling, too. As a result, the burden has been heavy, and parental burnout has been high. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Although managers have always played a role in the success and retention of their team, post-pandemic, unique opportunities for both success and retention have arisen, allowing managers to better support working parents.
For me, it’s personal.
I’ve been there myself. Not only have I had a professional career as a chief people officer, I’m also a single mom.
When it was time for me to go back to work after having my daughter (now a teenager), I was not ready. I took a huge leap of faith and just somehow knew I would be okay. I told my employer that I could work part-time, mostly from home, and could not travel. I fully expected them to say “no” since I was the head of HR of a company spread across 22 countries. Instead, I was floored when they said “yes.”
I believe they made this accommodation because these leaders were also parents and good people. re importantly, they knew me and trusted that I would give it my all, no matter my work schedule. Of course, it also made good business and financial sense to pay me for part-time work, knowing that critical goals would be met for the team and the company. So it worked well for both of us and for seven years at that!
At every company for which I’ve worked, women approach me to have candid discussions about their hesitations of approaching their boss with return to work (such as after maternity leave) or flex work topics. The fact that we are still discussing this--in this age of technology and digital connection--is unfathomable. Yet, here we are.
My advice on how to balance parenting and your professional career
In this quickly evolving and uncertain “new normal” for work, employers need YOU now more than ever. So here is some of my advice for working parents and leadership alike.
Advice for working parents who are struggling or thinking of quitting
First, analyze your situation and ask for what you need. I know you all won’t get a “yes” to every request for flexibility; however, you might be amazed at how open people are to flex hours or accommodate your requests. Stay true to yourself, and don’t give up.
You may still be in survival mode. You may have already accepted this new normal (although acceptance doesn’t mean you have to like it). However, be sure to develop creative ways to practice self-care and wellness while carving out and prioritizing the time with your child/ren.
Give yourself an outlet to express concerns and challenges through close friends or a counselor. Finding that village is critical for your mental health and wellbeing. Also, remember to go easy on yourself. These are unprecedented times; don’t be hard on yourself for not going above and beyond 24/7.
Don’t let the stereotype that “raising kids is a woman's job” get put on you. Although I know that many of you want to be primary or co-primary caregivers, you’re facing similar challenges as mothers—advocate for yourself and your family.
Advice for managers on supporting parents’ success
What can we do as managers and companies to be more open and accommodating to the concerns of working parents? Let’s look at some approaches to managing working parents, making your employees feel heard and respected. When you support not just your working parent employees, but all employees, in the ways below, you increase your employees loyalty to both you and the company by helping them better balance work and family.
Be open. Understand and appreciate the costs of recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining great talent. Be open to flex hours and time off needed to support team members with families. If a person can’t travel, what other options are there? Can you create a new role with different hours/arrangements? Are you taking advantage of collaborative digital tools, encouraging flexibility about when and where to work?
Be creative in your problem-solving. Supporting and enabling great employees is your legacy as a leader. Think big.
I’m proud of my work and know I’ve made a difference. And, I wouldn’t trade back a second of the time I spent raising and getting to know my daughter.
Let’s keep the conversation going.
I would love to hear your thoughts or your personal story. How are you supporting the working parents on your team? What best practices do you recommend? How are you addressing gender and pay equity during these unprecedented times?
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