Numbers abound as to how many women left the workforce over the pandemic, leading to the “she-cession.” While there is no dependable figure as to “how many,” it’s clear that working moms have had an even harder time during the pandemic because of increased stress and mental health challenges, juggling heightened work demands, remote learning, and limited or lack of childcare options. Long before the pandemic, we all had an inkling that moms tended to shoulder more of the parental duties in a household and that women are generally much more likely to adjust their careers around children.
Last year around Mother’s Day, a few of the working moms of FM:Systems shared their experiences and advice on Supporting and Retaining Working Mothers. So we thought it was only fitting that this Mother’s Day, we ask what they feel has changed, how businesses can continue to better support them, and what they think they need from all of us. These are their thoughts.
What impact did the pandemic have on working mothers?
Balance. Speaking to our working moms the consensus is that because their work and home lives collided and became more intertwined, creating boundaries was a real challenge. Boundaries that ensured they didn’t work too much to “compensate” for time with the kids. Or boundaries to ensure they didn’t fall into the trap of not getting to their work because of managing the demands of school-aged kids.
It’s natural for mothers to try and do everything. It’s almost as if they are hardwired to fix everything, make everything, and be available to everyone. One FM:Systems mom mentioned, “the lines between work, childcare, schooling, cook, entertainer, and doctor – become really blurred.” To break it down, our moms say the first year was the worst as it was a culture shock and a huge learning curve. Whereas by the time the second year rolled around, they could put systems in place to ensure they weren’t “continuously overwhelmed” and could cope better.
“The lines between work, childcare, schooling, cook, entertainer, and doctor – become really blurred.” – A working mom
The main challenge for working moms was that they got lost somewhere in all of this. As stress levels increased, they needed to do more to protect and buffer their families and found there was no space for themselves or space to process any of the emotions that came with this shift, which brings us back to the need to create balance and boundaries.
Why is it so important for companies to empower working mothers to return to work?
But our team warns that the discussion about bringing moms back to work is not one around “us or them.” It’s not a gender discussion as the ladies believe that men and women should be seen on equal footing. The same goes for employees who are parents and those who are not. It’s far from an equality issue and is more an equity issue. The problem with this is that every person has a unique set of circumstances, including the single fathers, so taking a cookie-cutter approach to people, no matter their gender, simply doesn’t work.
Therefore, moms tend to take on a disproportionate burden of childcare duties compared to men and are expected to juggle more while being given far less grace to do so. Any company that places value on diversity should immediately recognize the business risk posed by a mass exodus of women from their business.
How can businesses better support working mothers?
According to the moms at FM:Systems, the emphasis must remain on flexibility. Returning to the office requires more than just a minor adjustment; it also entails mental hurdles for the mother. Businesses must be mindful of the potential that employees face guilt at the prospect of leaving the kids at home, anxiety related to trusting caregivers, and stress when juggling the multi-faceted demands of work and family calendars. Therefore, organizations must accommodate or make allowances for the transitions the working mom faces.
Our moms at FM:Systems also believe that businesses need to recognize the value and skills of those moms who have been a homemaker or stay-at-home parents instead of writing them off because they have been “out of the workforce” for a while. Moms are superheroes, warriors even. According to our FM:Systems moms, throw in another baby – being her work – into the mix, she’ll throw herself into it and you’ll realize just how unstoppable she is. Mother’s are constantly exercising problem-solving and decision making skills, have a talent for making nothing into something, and are incredibly resilient. One of our moms went on to say, “anyone who can keep a young human being (or two, or three) alive is an asset to any team. These are the people grooming our future leaders, so the role of a mother can never be underestimated.”
Coming back to the need for flexibility, our team says that organizations must offer a flexible transition plan that allows moms returning to the office full-time from a work from home scenario, time to adjust to their new normal. This same flexibility must be afforded to those parents who have opted to stay and work from home. Leaders need to have compassion when coming to terms with these individuals’ work and family demands and adjust their expectations accordingly – communication from both sides in this scenario is key.
“Anyone who can keep a young human being (or two, or three) alive is an asset to any team.” – A working mom
It all comes down to striking a balance between people and business imperatives. As humans, we work to serve our hierarchy of needs where businesses exist to turn a profit. Happy humans make for hardworking employees, and hardworking employees help make more profits. As much as some elbow grease needs to be applied to get the system working for all parties, the moms at FM:Systems say the trick lies in flexibility and communications.
What can colleagues and employers do to support moms in the workplace?
Check in on your moms. In the words of our working moms: “We aren’t okay. We’ll say we are, but sometimes we just need someone to come in and take something off our plate without asking if we need it.”
It’s not all about providing better collaboration tools or more technology to ease the burden. It’s about being human first and “business” second. Checking in on the moms in your team and offering to help with a seemingly small task that will take you 15 minutes may ultimately buy them the time they need to pick up the kids, call the school, fetch a prescription, or even feed the dog.
“We aren’t okay. We’ll say we are, but sometimes we just need someone to come in and take something off our plate without asking if we need it.” – A working mom
And then remember that moms are human, and they are part of your team. So, connect with them. Ask them how they are doing, how the kids are, how that ballet class went, or when the next birthday is. If the kids storm a virtual meeting, chat with them – the mom on the other side is dying inside that her attempts to barricade them out of the home office have failed. Chat to the little ones to ease her nerves instead of being silent (which implies it’s an issue).
To answer the ultimate question of how we can support working mothers: lead with humanity, foster a culture of flexibility, and ensure fluid communications
To all our wonderful women who contributed their perspectives to this piece – thank you!