For over a year, the pandemic has forced all parents in the workforce to make incredibly challenging decisions leaving many of them burned out. And while working remotely proved to be highly productive for most companies, it hasn’t been as smooth for parents, working from home with children who need constant supervision or support with remote learning. Consider these sobering statistics the effects Covid-19 has had on working mothers in particular:
- Mothers are more than three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for most of the housework and caregiving during the pandemic. In fact, they’re 1.5 times more likely than fathers to be spending an additional 3+ hours per day on housework and childcare McKinsey’s 2020 Women in the Workplace study – the equivalent of an additional part-time job.
- 1 in 4 women surveyed as part of McKinsey’s 2020 Women in the Workplace study indicated that they are contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce altogether.
- Around 10 million U.S. mothers living with their own school-age children were not actively working in January — 1.4 million more than during the same month last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
- The 10 million mothers currently not working accounted for over one-third of all mothers living with school-age children in the United States, according to the Current Population Survey.
As many companies begin reopening their workplaces, employers considering requiring all employees return to the office five days a week will face unique challenges for working mothers, including but not limited to:
- Determining daycare arrangements when children are not yet able to be vaccinated (some employees may not be comfortable yet sending their kids to daycare without vaccination)
- Less flexibility to pick up or drop off from school, help with homework during work hours, etc.
- Added commute time adds even more to an already overtaxed schedule
- Balancing responsibilities and workload with their spouses and non-parent/non-mother coworkers
In honor of Mother’s Day, we spoke to a few women in our own company about the ways employers can support and retain working mothers as the world goes back to the office, either full-time or in a hybrid capacity. Let’s see what they had to say about helping these employees navigate the return to work process and best ways to approach the new hybrid work model.
Location and hours flexibility
Flexibility will be the biggest driver for both attracting and retaining talent in 2021 and beyond. It’s particularly important for women, who typically bear the brunt of family rearing and household chores in addition to a full-time role, but it’s increasingly important for both sexes and all age groups. The bright side of this past year has been more time for activities with loved ones, a much shorter (or no) commute time, and the chance to exercise regularly during a workday lunch hour. Companies that continue to offer some flexibility, as well as support a diverse and inclusive workplace, will be much better positioned to succeed coming out of this pandemic.
The retention of all demographics, especially in the technology space, revolves around being creative with flexible working arrangements. With working moms specifically, offering options like reduced full-time hours (30 or 35 vs. 40), the ability to work hours of the day that work best for them, or even four 10-hour days per week rather than the traditional five nine-hour workdays can make a huge impact. Encourage working parents to take time off and mean it. Prove to them it’s OK to avoid email or let phone calls go to voicemail during their time off.
This culture of flexibility must come from the senior leadership team and be reinforced by department leads. Encouraging employees to block their calendar and set the working hours that work for them is key, but company leaders must set the tone by blocking their own calendars so that parents do not feel that they are being judged by their colleagues.
Dedicated, functional spaces
Offices need to rethink the priorities for their in-person office space. With more people working from home, the calculus on the value of each square foot changes from packing in employees to providing a complete and convenient experience that promotes productivity, as well as mental health.
For example, offices need a dedicated space where nursing mothers can express and store their milk. This simple offering makes a huge difference in a mom’s ability and desire to return to work. Similarly, on-site or hyper-convenient access to a daycare or nanny for working moms is a huge advantage. If it’s their first child especially, it’s going to be hard to be far away. This can also be a huge relief to moms who have children that are exclusively breastfed since they would be able to head down to the daycare and feed their child as needed.
Last but not least, and another big plus, would be a gym, meditation room, or a space to destress while at work. Parents are usually rushing out of the house and rushing back home to make or grab dinner before it’s quickly bedtime for their kids. If they have an on-site facility, they can get a workout in during lunch or a break between meetings. This would truly help their overall wellbeing and shows that their employer prioritizes their health.
Measuring costs and benefits
Deciding how much to change, what to offer, and where to draw the line will result in a different answer for every organization. But the process should be the same, and the rationale for making such an effort is undeniable.
Every company must evaluate how long it would take to recruit, hire and train someone to replace a working mother who decides to leave. The cost of replacing an individual employee can conservatively range from one half to two times the employee’s annual salary. Losing a top employee because you can’t offer flexibility may mean you are losing your best innovator or your most effective problem solver. Internally, it breaks down team morale. Externally, it could mean lost or damaged customer relationships. Any type of investment to support working mothers should be weighed against this organizational cost of having them walk out the door.
Control what you can
In most cases, employers aren’t able to address every challenging aspect of being a working mother. The cost of childcare is still sky high, school schedules can change at a moment’s notice, extracurriculars are demanding on parents too, and kids will always get sick or act up in school. But as long as the business creates a workplace – culturally, physically, strategically – in which mothers’ unique needs are understood and supported, the return to work can be a net positive for everyone.
Thank you to all the terrific women who contributed their perspectives to this piece!
- Anna Fletcher, Manager of Global Strategic Alliances
- Jamie Godwin, Manager of Strategic Partnerships
- Jennifer Heath, Director of Product Marketing
- Deb Hill, Vice President of Human Resources
- Hanadi Karakrah, Human Resources Generalist