I had a conversation the other day with a coaching client who told me she’s not sure how long she can hang on.
Since the pandemic began, she’s been working ten-hour days while helping her school-age kids transition back and forth from in-school learning to remote learning.
She spends her evenings catching up on missed emails, placing grocery orders on Instacart, and checking in with her eighty-year-old mom.
She told me that she doesn’t know if she’s coming or going and that she missed a critical deadline last week. She forgot to enroll her kids in summer camp and now must tell them they’ll be attending Camp Mom instead.
She’s thinking of quitting her high-powered job, as she feels completely overwhelmed. The added stress of worrying about what future employers will think of this move has left her in a state of confusion.
Her story is all too common—working women (and working men) suffering in silence.
Women are leaving the workforce in droves as a result of Covid-19. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 2.2 million fewer women in the labor force in October 2020 than in October 2019.
But women aren’t voluntarily stepping out. They’re being shoved out by disproportionate job loss, shuttered schools, lack of childcare, pay disparities, and lack of public policy to support working women, especially during the pandemic.
These women, like those who have come before them, may find it’s not so easy to slip back into the workforce as if nothing happened. They’ll have to figure out a way to explain why, unlike the working mother figures on television, they couldn’t figure out how to do it all.
Child care was a significant issue for working parents in 2020 and continues to be in 2021. As the country fell into a lockdown in March, parents suddenly found themselves overseeing learning or caring for non-school-age children while performing their jobs from home.
Often the bulk of the responsibility fell to women.
“Many two-parent families looked at salary as the deciding factor in who would continue to work. Since women tend to be paid less than their male counterparts and fill roles in industries that earn less money overall, many women left the labor market to take on the expanded child care responsibilities,” said Andrew Challenger, Senior Vice President of global outplacement and executive and business coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.
“Meanwhile, for single mothers, the decision was equally, if not more, difficult with even fewer options,” he added.
A recent study by Chief revealed some disheartening statistics outlining women’s specific struggles during this pandemic. According to Chief Co-Founder Lindsay Kaplan, a quarter (24.4%) of women surveyed are planning on leaving their companies sooner due to the company’s response to the pandemic.
The added workload is finally getting to people. “Seventy percent of surveyed women said they are taking on more responsibility. The workload is doubling for many people. So many women who are trying to manage being a mom and a caregiver and are finding this is untenable. They are burnt out.”
Here are some things you can do retain and attract working moms:
- Create a culture where women are valued. Are there women in the C-suite, on the board, or in any position of authority? I’m not talking about one or two token females. Are you actively recruiting and promoting women for these roles? If not, what’s stopping you from doing so?
- Share responsibilities. Train employees so they can take over for one another should an emergency arise. Create back-up staffing plans for essential tasks.
- Revisit your employee benefits. Re-examine paid leave policies. Consider subsidizing childcare or emergency childcare. Provide referral options for daycare services. Create living style wallets, where employees can choose how to spend the money you’ve placed inside their wallets for their use. Some may use this for childcare, while other workers may choose to subscribe to a meal delivery service.
- Check-in with your employees regularly. Managers should check in on workers to assess their emotional health. Encourage time off, suggest breaks, and pass along referrals for counseling if needed.
- Minimize meetings. Some of my clients spend their entire day on back-to-back Zoom calls, which leaves them little time, if any, to work on the initiatives that are on their plate. Think twice before inviting someone to a meeting. Encourage people to pick up the phone or send a quick email instead of calling a meeting.
- Examine workloads. Reprioritize goals so only critical ones are the focus. If need be, reassign work and consider adding contractors or employees to help ease the workload.
- Provide external support. Provide people with access to mental health services, coaches, and mentors. Let your people know that they don’t have to go at this alone.
- Be an example. Share stories of your own challenges and offer to guide those who are struggling as well. Be human.
- Be empathetic, especially now. Acknowledge the unusual circumstances occurring in our world and workplace right now. Give leeway when possible as women contend with balancing the stress of a pandemic, family responsibilities, and their professional careers. Create a safe space inside your organization where women can openly discuss what’s happening in their lives.
I’m here if you need my help. I’ve been a working parent for years and can relate. If you want to talk, schedule a call with me.