COVID-19 – and the lockdowns that have come with it – have given us all an opportunity to take a good, hard look at things around us.
While we are beyond grateful for the countless contributions and sacrifices of the doctors, nurses, and other essential workers on the front lines in the fight against COVID, very little thought has been given to the plight of working mothers during this pandemic.
This blog is about us – and millions of other working mothers across all types of roles – that are really working two or even three or four jobs, if you consider the ones at home.
Ironically, before the pandemic, a lot of us thought working from home would be so much easier! It would mean more time with the family, more flexibility, more control, and a lot more support.
Be careful what you wish for
Well, here we are, and the reality could not be more different. This has truly been hard for us.
Along with relatively “flexible” hours, we have been experiencing an expansion of responsibilities, which includes an increased domestic burden, leading to more conflicts in our schedules.
Even today, most of the work and social setup across companies around the world, is extremely skewed in terms of accommodating the schedules and commitments of mothers. COVID-19 further tilted the fragile “balance” that perhaps existed – to a small extent – for the more privileged ones.
So with all the time we’ve had locked up at home, we decided to spend some of it thinking and talking about how “working from home” has really impacted families – ours and countless others – and what we can do better.
We asked ourselves: what changes would we like to see in workplaces moving forward, both now, and after people start going back to offices?
Battling the socio-economic breakdown
Following the onset of the crisis, social support was the first to go – with daycare, schools, and cafeterias shutting down.
We don’t mean to overlook how fathers have been stepping up, but let’s face it – much as was the case before the crisis, women continue to reel under the pressure of a disproportionate share of the responsibilities at home. A recent BCG survey covering five countries found that women now spend an average of 15 hours more on household chores per week than men do.
In August, the federal jobs reports highlighted that women in their prime-earning years (25 to 54) were dropping out of the workforce more than other age groups. Overall, the drop translated into 1.3 million women leaving the labor market since February. The Guardian calls this a “pink collar recession.” Unlike previous economic downturns, which affected more men than women, this time, women and especially working mothers are the worst hit.
Faced with dwindling income and opportunities, growing child care and home care needs, unreasonable work demands, and unceremonious lay-offs, a lot of great women have been falling off their career paths.
Are flexible working hours enough?
“Companies just have to give employees more control over their work styles instead of pushing them into a corner. They should be given the opportunity to work part time or for significantly reduced hours, with a practical plan to gradually increase hours back to a full-time cycle,” said Madhumita.
Suvarchala, Joveo’s HR Manager in India and mother to an energetic seven-year-old, remarked, “It’s not just about flexible hours. Sometimes, companies that offer this benefit end up scheduling calls, meetings, and deliverables, beyond work hours. Moms often need a little more flexibility because their schedules are unpredictable – and they need to work beyond hours to make up for lost time. The policy should be clear. No work or calls before 10 AM, or after 7 PM. Personal time should be as sacrosanct as work hours.”
Do we need to upgrade our evaluation / appraisal processes?
“Evaluations and appraisals shouldn’t be as myopic as they used to be. A lot of companies tend to focus on numbers, metrics, and bell curves when appraising employees. That just won’t work anymore,” said Ashlie. “COVID-19 has, above all else, taught us what it means to be human and mortal. Companies must take a more long-term, 360-degree, wholesome approach to evaluations – not only will employees be happier, you’ll end up saving on crazy turnover costs as well.
How can we ensure better mental health and well-being for working mothers?
Anjana, Joveo’s Content Writer and single mom to a chirpy 11-year old, is no stranger to meltdowns! “Now I go from beguilingly amiable to fire-breathing dragon-soul twin in the space of a day. The responsibilities are often beyond human limits – dirty dishes are proof that the devil exists – and that’s just one example of a chore everyone has. Companies need to acknowledge that. They must stop ignoring the insane pressures they know exist – and are piling up – and proactively start having conversations with employees to find solutions that are effective for everyone. Everyone has to adapt,” she said.
Shruti Agrawal, Joveo’s Senior Financial Analyst and mother to a rambunctious one-year-old boy, suggested, “A half day off mid-week for fathers would be a huge help to us when it comes to managing the chaos at home and helping ease the insane burden. This will also encourage men to contribute more fairly toward running the house.”
“Fitness and stress-relieving activities should be held every couple of weeks to promote general wellness and inner calm. While it might not be as directly helpful as other measures such as flexible work hours and balanced workloads, no one can discount the benefits of a healthy mind and body – and there’s literally no better time to start than today,” added Suvarchala.
We need to revisit certain expectations now!
Overall, we need to cut back on certain unreal expectations from people, especially mothers, working from home.
As modern workplaces, couldn’t we all – across all genders – be a little less uptight about what constitutes “professional” behavior and appearance?
Couldn’t we stop rolling our eyes at the wailing baby in the background, or the toddler with a sticky cupcake on her fingers making a lunge for her mum on the call?
It would be great to see parents introducing their teenagers or toddlers to their colleagues, if they happen to walk in on a call – or even if they don’t!
Couldn’t men turn up a bit disheveled on some video calls so we don’t feel embarrassed about not looking “perfect” all the time?
This new normal is far from ideal in the first place – it’s important we all learn to focus on the truly important stuff and give much less importance to the “optics.”
Are we asking for too much?
Returning to “normal” work is going to be anything but normal.
We see it coming – as workplaces open up, employees are going to be hesitant to bring up and discuss personal constraints.
Working mothers will still have little access to a support system as they knew it. Most school plans are now different – with rotational attendance to facilitate social distancing. Childcare is either practically or financially inaccessible for most working mothers. Play dates remain a thing of the past, at least until we have a proven vaccine.
Creating better workplaces for mothers… together!
The only way to address these issues – big and small – is: collectively.
You can’t get far by overstretching already wrung-out employees. Honest, focused, and transparent conversations that come up with effective and practical plans are the best way to keep things headed in a positive direction.
It’s high time all companies understood the different needs of employees that are parents – particularly mothers – and did their bit to care for these critical sections of their workforce.
We cannot look the other way!