“I’m looking for a new job with less hours so that I can be more available for my family. Plus the current job I have is doing more harm than good for my mental health so a change would give me a mental boost…”
“(I look forward to) getting a new job that respects and values me as a human.”
“I work 10 hour days and have 2 small children. By the time I get them to daycare or baby sitters (if I’m able to), and then work and get home, we’re gone close to 11 or 12 hours. I also usually work until 10pm. …That leaves no time to make dinner or really see them. … Finding childcare after 6 or 7 is very difficult. And keeping my kids on a regular routine is difficult because some days I work different hours…”
Over 3,000 parents, mostly Moms (98%) have shared their stories in our pandemic study since March of 2020. Women may be back in the paid workforce at pre-pandemic rates, but are Moms sitting in the same professional seats? And more importantly, do they want the same things from work? The answer, at least according to our research, is not exactly. Most want much more from the work/life equation.
The pandemic kind of crushed our spirits. Not only is the day-to-day harder, it heightened awareness that what we had before, wasn’t great. Moms continue to struggle with more complexity in our careers and homes. Yet some organizations don’t get it. Whether it’s keeping tone deaf managers or trying to stuff the hybrid genie back in the bottle, few org cultures are family friendly. So, what’s really happening in today’s workplace and how can leaders fix it?
Yes, (Most) Moms are Back
The million Moms that exited paid work, due to the pandemic, are mostly accounted for in the latest labor statistics. Access to onsite school, the prevalence of remote work and financial necessities, have helped lure them back. But our workforce is still far from equitable. The return-to-work recovery has been slowest for Moms of preschoolers. And the ongoing childcare crisis means many parents will remain without coverage.
Those who can afford it, are either on the competitive hunt for nannies or praying for coveted daycare and after-school slots. Of course, high inflation only adds to the strain on families. And as noted in this Center for American Progress recap of the labor report, “…huge gender gaps in employment rates between Mothers and Fathers persist.”
But Not in the Same Fields
The industries that were hardest hit in the pandemic, were also the most female-heavy. Like healthcare, education, hospitality, and retail. And there’s still a gap in women’s participation for those sectors. Time will determine if it’s a permanent shift, from what is often less flexible work, due to the on-site demands.
After all, if you’re in a key role at a hospital, hotel, or school, your in person presence is likely required. The big question, across the wide world of work is, are organizations creating more Mom-friendly conditions? And cultivating cultures that support women and hands-on caregivers?
More are In Leadership
“Emphasis on arbitrary numbers for administering services that are not helpful to the clients or the staff we serve. Almost as though they are trying to make sure we aren’t taking advantage of anything and that we are really working a million hours a week. It feels like they don’t trust us. And we are all at least Masters degree holders.”
So, for most of our surveyed Moms not yet. Work/life remains thorny. Yes, having financial stability and honoring identity is important. But significant tradeoffs remain. And women are much more likely to face micro-aggressions. Like being gaslighted or having their competence questioned. And being undermined at work is both exhausting and financially devastating. The good news? There are more women in senior management roles. But progress remains frustratingly slow and glacial for women of color. Have better numbers made a difference in how we experience work?
But Many Still Feel Set up to Fail
“The company won’t hire new people and just keeps adding workload on me. (I’m) now working equivalent of 2 full time jobs in one position. Since they know I have the capability of working from home, they expect me to do it at all hours to get the work done.”
Again, not exactly. Most in our latest survey wave* say their organizations support them adequately (39%,) well (16%) or very well (12%) caring for themselves or families. But the key measures of equity haven’t changed much. C-Suites and boards in the most influential companies, don’t have much diversity. And despite greater numbers in leadership, as reported by the Center for American Progress, Moms still get paid a lot less than Dads (16%.) And sadly, that gap widens over time. Which hurts not only short-term options but long-term financial wellness.
And in our study, Moms in leadership continue to cite insufficient resources to realize their potential. Because even those in leadership are being given mission impossible assignments. Like hitting financial targets with less staff, budget, or time.
So, Where Does that Leave Wellness?
Although burnout continues to rise, the restorative self-care hasn’t. When asked in our most recent survey wave*, what stands in the way of self-care? Which we define as everything at the top of the Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs, we heard it’s not just the lack of support at home. The hours, culture and environment at work, continue to play a crucial role.
- The majority (56%) have no child (or elder) care help
- Nearly half (43%) can’t find time in the workday
- And almost 1/3 (32%) feel worried about being unavailable during the workday
So, in addition to all the ways in which Moms are undermined in the workplace, workers in general have had a raw deal for the past couple of decades. With declining wages, shorter tenures, and longer hours. And because most Moms own childcare and the household, it leads to less choice or ability to prioritize time for their health.
What Organizations Can Do About It
Mothers need the same things from workplaces now, that we’ve always needed to be our healthiest and happiest. In our pandemic study, now with over 3,000 parents, the outcry for better workplace support continues. And consistently falls into four key categories:
Yes, it’s changing with remote work and post-pandemic flex hours, but it’s still not enough. Flexible expectations need to accompany flexible location. And new ways of how to get the work done.
Mental health support (de-stigmatized, curated and ideally subsidized)
We have a mental health crisis that isn’t going anywhere. Many Moms in our research are suffering from anxiety and depression, not just burnout and stress. A healthy, supportive workplace culture and health benefits can mitigate this.
Sufficient childcare and/or eldercare (ideally curated and subsidized)
Because care is part of the human condition, and it still lands disproportionately on women in most families. And we are not complaining about our caregiving responsibilities, we love our families. But it begins to feel hollow to receive promotion after promotion during our childless years. And then, feel marginalized when we have our strongest professional contributions to make.
Ultimately, parents and caregivers in the paid workforce need supportive employers. We’re past the point where being creative, organized, and scrappy at home solves for work/life conflict. The environments we live and work in matter to our health, dignity and quality of life. As one surveyed Mom shared, “I don’t want to constantly feel like my time and efforts are in competition when it comes to parenting and working in corporate America.”
So, during this era of cost-cutting and ruthless prioritization, stand up for inclusive support. Even if your organization can’t provide childcare, eldercare or enhanced mental healthcare coverage. It can create a flexible and psychologically safe culture with time and intention. So, bring your power and presence to that next management meeting. And advocate for the kind of workplace where Moms, parents and caregivers will flourish.
*300 Mothers who have participated in wave 9 of our pandemic research study since January of 2023.
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