Previously published on Forbes
Now that we are over eight months into the global pandemic, it’s time to take stock and get more creative. It’s time to pay attention to the women leaders you work with, because they have been singularly derailed with small people clamoring for their attention as they have tried to balance working from home and life at home. For most working mothers, it’s an untenable situation, and we’re already seeing the fallout.
“The year 2020, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, was intended to be ground-breaking for gender equality,” a UN Policy brief about the impact of the pandemic on women notes. “Instead, with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, even the limited gains made in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back. The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic.” Recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report that, after disproportionately losing jobs during the early shutdown, women are leaving the workforce at nearly four times the rate of men.
Women in every kind of work are being adversely impacted. Female academics are submitting far fewer papers for academic journals, as Caroline Kitchener details at The Lily, a publication for women produced by The Washington Post. In her New York Times article They Go to Mommy First, Jessica Grose writes, “Moms are the emotional barometers for the household, and they’re managing an unseen amount of extra work, thinking about child care, dentist appointments and the happiness of their children, even when men are making an effort.”
Grose points out that women are still the default caregivers for young children and aging parents, and as a result, a disproportionate number of women might end up staying at home while men go back to work.
These trends are disheartening, but I’ve always said, never waste a good crisis. In an ideal world, recovery from the global pandemic could lead to a more equitable workplace environment, one that is more resilient in future crises.
With all of this in mind, let’s focus on what can be done in this extraordinary time to shore up the working moms.
Relate to the Issue as Your Problem to Solve
If you are a leader in an organization, whether you are a woman or a mom or not, relate to this issue as if it is your problem. Don’t leave it to the moms to figure out. Take responsibility for designing creative solutions with the moms who work with you. Slow down or postpone work and sales growth expectations. Slow everything down and lead by example. Stop working all weekend. Reduce your working hours, which will reduce the hours your team has to respond to you.
Ask the Women What They Need
Get personal. Ask the women what challenges they are facing. Don’t assume that one size fits all. Instead, involve them in the solutions. In our small firm, we have two moms who are now reluctant home-school teachers. We asked them what they need to create more workability in their lives. One team member took a paid six-week leave of absence to sort herself and her family situation out in the early days of lockdown and schools being canceled. After that, she determined that going part-time was the right answer — for now. The other woman on our team scaled back her client work by 40% to make time for her health and her two young boys who are at home full time. Most importantly, neither of these women will be judged harshly for their decisions. We are in full support of them.
Mom: Stop Doing it All
Here’s the kicker: We’ve earned the freedom to have children and a successful career, but it’s still us doing a lot of the housework and cooking and cleaning. We need to ask for more help at home. Our partners have to step up and step in. Sit down with your partner and kids and negotiate the household tasks. Create consequences if family members don’t do their chores. And make sure it’s on everyone. You can’t become the family nag. That takes too much energy, and then you might as well do it yourself.
Get Creative with Schooling
We just never imagined our lives without teachers for our children. And no matter our complaints about the education system, not having school at all is untenable. But the longer schools are closed, the more women will be forced to leave work. We have to think bigger. One mom on our team has engaged in a pod of four children and their families. They have hired a teacher to work with the students three days a week — observing social distancing and mask-wearing.
These are just a few ideas to get you to focus on an important issue — women and work. I know you can get even more creative.