As a proud working mother of a four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son, I’ve found that achieving the mythical work-life balance is impossible. Every day contains a complex mix of both, with the scales tipping back and forth in each direction. As someone who loves order, it’s taken me several years to fully accept this as a fact of life.
We’re still living in a time when women disproportionately bear the responsibility for life at home. Married mothers are doing almost twice the amount of household chores and parenting as married fathers. In addition to their day jobs, many women are navigating the social and emotional planning for the whole family. Is Lauren getting along okay with her classmates at school? Do I need to put Alex in speech therapy because he’s not quite forming sentences yet? When was the last time our dog went to the vet? Oh, and family flu shots needed to have been scheduled, like yesterday.
COVID-19 has made the pressures of this dynamic so much more challenging. If the abrupt end to school in the spring and lack of access to camps and daycare over the summer weren’t disruptive enough, the current uncertainty around virtual vs. in-person learning is requiring parents to spend their days juggling childcare, online classes and their career responsibilities. It’s no wonder so many of us are struggling to meet our own pre-pandemic standards. But the impact of these seismic shifts in our day-to-day are greater than most of us could have imagined at the start of the year.
Even without including layoffs and furloughs, many women are being forced into a difficult decision of scaling back to part-time or leaving work altogether to routinely care for their children. The staggering numbers should give every employer pause. Women are leaving the workforce at four times the rate as men. An estimated 617,000 women left the workforce just in September, compared with 78,000 men. And because of COVID-19, as many as two million women are considering taking a leave of absence or leaving altogether.
We’ve all heard the scary stats that predict this could set women in the workforce back for several generations to come. I’m particularly concerned for my young daughter. I was hopeful that by the time she launched her career, gender gaps in pay would be a thing of the past.
There are things that all of us can do to help ease the burden on working moms and start building a more equitable future. Here are a few recommendations:
- To working fathers: To the dads who take on their equal share of the “life” piece of the puzzle—thank you! We see you and wish we could clone you! If you’re not, make sure you are doing your part, ALL of your part. Don’t wait for permission—it’s time to step up without being asked.
- To employers: See your working parents, find ways to support them, and allow them to bring their whole selves to work. Make a concerted effort to slow the exit of working moms from the workforce. The consequences of losing your female leadership pipeline are drastic. Bottom line: You can’t afford to lose them. I am proud to work for a company that acknowledges the insanity working parents are enduring and finds ways to support them. The free online tutoring and enrichment courses being offered show Ketchum cares about our children’s well-being, and even something as simple as discouraging internal meetings during specific hours of the day so parents can have blocked time with children speaks volumes about a company’s understanding of what employees are balancing.
- To colleagues of working parents: When you are frustrated that Susan seems a little distracted during that 10 a.m. video conference, it’s probably because she’s trying to help her son focus on his second-grade Zoom class. Extend patience and understanding.
- To fellow working moms: I see you and respect you. You are not alone. Give yourself grace and empathy. And remember, if you forget to send snacks to preschool on your assigned week, it’s okay.