NATIONAL REPORT — The COVID-19 pandemic has been an incredible challenge for people around the world and from all walks of life but, as a group, working women faced even more difficulties than many others. Recognizing this fact is important to the business world, not just families.
"The pandemic has shown what women around the world knew all along — when the chips are down, women are still expected to take on caregiving responsibilities at an even higher rate than men and that sadly, companies still aren't doing what they need to do to support them," said Sarah Alter, CEO of the Network of Executive Women (NEW), a professional community committed to advancing women in the workplace and transforming the face of business.
How can the working world better support working parents to ensure that precious talent is not lost? This was one of several key questions raised by NEW during a recent online event that sought to facilitate a conversation about how to collectively reinvent the relationship between motherhood and work, tackle gender inequality, and reimagine the role companies and society can play in supporting mothers.
The discussion benefits fathers, too, and all the caregivers who "make up the village that comprises our family," added Gayatri Agnew, founder of Mother's Monday, a day set aside to pause and celebrate working motherhood.
During the pandemic, mothers did the "extra-extra work" of spending 15-plus or more hours per week on household responsibilities compared to pre-COVID, according to Lareina Yee, chief diversity and inclusion officer at McKinsey & Co.
Mothers were two times more likely than fathers to worry that their work performance was being judged negatively because of their caregiving responsibilities. Additionally, one in three mothers considered leaving the workforce or downsizing their careers since the start of the pandemic. And the jobless rate for single mothers rose much higher than it had been pre-pandemic — peaking at 28 percent in spring 2020, and remaining high at 18.8 percent as of February 2021.
"In a world where we don't have anywhere near gender parity in the workplace, the idea that we could lose our population of working moms — that's a pretty scary thing," Yee said, adding that women of color face an even stronger burden.
Pointing out these facts may not feel like celebrating women, but it shines a spotlight on what is happening, and the power of data helps working mothers know they are not alone, according to Yee. This information can also be brought to companies to ask how they are supporting working mothers differently.
Making it possible for mothers to contribute to the working world will benefit everyone, according to Sonia Spinks, senior director, merchandise operations for Walmart Beauty.
"We can advance further, faster, when we have more people in the room — particularly mothers in the room," Spinks said during a roundtable discussion panel.
Skills cultivated through motherhood are useful in the workplace.
"For me, the biggest thing is patience," said Tet Salva, founder of MomWarrior. "Taking a look at the bigger perspective, not just what you want."
The panelists echoed that emotional intelligence, capacity for teamwork and the knowledge of when to ask for help and be willing to let others take the lead are also skills they learned as mothers and brought to their careers.
On the positive side, recent workday wins include increased adoption of development plans that take the needs of working parents into account, as well as increased adoption of employee surveys that gather data to build a pipeline of talent and leadership, according to the panelists.
Salva advised working parents to "find your people" in terms of support, and "give yourself grace — this is hard work that we're doing."
Instead of feeling as though it is unprofessional to acknowledge the emotional and practical challenges of being a caregiver and a working parent, people should try to connect with others in similar situations at their jobs, which can lead to discussions on how a company can take action to help them and change the culture for the better.
"Get started today," urged Sarah Johal, senior manager, brand campaign at Workday. "Somewhere, somehow, even if you're a one-person team, you are a mighty person who can activate real change in your workplace."