How organisations can retain working mothers during COVID-19
A side effect that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic is its effect on the availability of childcare. Most daycares around the world are closed and schools have shifted online. These disruptions are not just an inconvenience, there are serious problems for employees whose roles do not permit them to work from home. Working mothers, and to a lesser extent, working fathers, have had to find urgent solutions to ensure their children are cared for.
According to NPR, in September 2020 alone, 856,000 women left the US workforce, compared to 216,000 men. One in four women are considering either leaving the workforce or reducing their work hours.
The decision women around the world have made reflects stark common realities that childcare responsibilities more often than not, disproportionately fall on the shoulders of women, many of whom are foregoing their own careers, typically because their spouses earn more.
According to the Pew Research Center, between 1980 and 2018, women’s employment increased by 74%, while men’s employment only increased by 45%. By 2019, the share of American women on payrolls actually exceeded by 50%. Shortly after, the pandemic wiped out almost ten years of progress. The National Women’s Law Center reports that women lost more than 11 million jobs in the initial months of the pandemic, a loss that exceeded the gains made by female employees since the last recession.
“We know the infrastructure that is needed to support working parents and caregivers is going to be decimated by this time. Many women who are losing hours or being forced out of the workforce, whether they’re being laid off or for childcare, are not going to be able to walk back to new or equivalent roles.”
“We’re already seeing and will continue to see fundamental rollbacks in women’s gains in the workforce, in earnings, promotions, and leadership”, says Katherine Eyster, the director of strategic partnerships and policy initiatives at the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Losing a significant portion of women in the workforce will significantly harm the economy. To add, as the number of women leaving organisations increases, companies lose a significant portion of their gender diversity. According to a study by McKinsey and Lean In, companies that have women at senior levels do 50% better than their counterparts.
As women navigate the implications of COVID-19, employers will be put to the test. Paid sick days, childcare options, flexible workplaces, and more are extremely helpful tools that will retain female employees who are balancing families and careers. These options are in no way common, but during times like these, they certainly should be. Here are some simple solutions leaders should take into account when supporting all working parents, particularly mothers:
Assess current workplace policies
Are the existing policies of your workplace supportive for families? It is important to identify the most urgent needs of your employees who are parents. Specific focus should be placed on those who are the most vulnerable such as temporary, informal, migrant, pregnant or nursing workers and those who lack access to benefits.
Instruct managers to have open conversations with working mothers after analysing reports of the current situation. Assess workload and workflow, determine what is critical and prioritise these tasks accordingly. Leaders should also plan by department instead of by individuals, reducing dependence and pressure on working parents.
Grant flexible work arrangements
The needs of working parents can vary which means that different types of arrangements should be made to support mothers with young children. Flexible solutions include teleworking, compressing the work week or ensuring protected long-term leave.
Provide childcare options
Schools and childcare options have become unavailable or limited to many, making it increasingly necessary for employers to support mothers through childcare options. On-site childcare is a rare offering but companies can still provide support mothers through referral systems where childcare is available and safe, subsidies and flexible arrangements.
Lead with empathy
Acknowledging the challenges mothers are facing is the first step to leading with empathy in times of uncertainty. Leaders should make it a point to proactively reach out to parents, ensuring they know there can be solutions to their personal challenges. Ask working mothers what they need, how they feel and if they are comfortable in their current situations.