Five ways the pandemic could benefit long-term working mothers

Working from home for over a year has not been, well, remote easy for many women. Women report doing more household chores.

Mothers report providing the bulk of child care, as well as higher rates of anxiety and depressive disorders.

So many women have left the workforce since the start of the pandemic – in May, a net amount of 1.79 million, according to a June analysis of data from the National Women’s Law Center’s Bureau of Labor Statistics – that some have called last year of “her-demise.”

But what if companies finally respond to this moment by creating more cohesive office cultures?

“If we take what we’ve learned and don’t see it as just a response to a crisis but what good management and good organizations look like, we have a chance to leave the pandemic stronger and more inclusive than we are at it. entered, ”said Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, co-founder of the Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab and chief diversity, equity and inclusion strategist at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

As some companies begin to bring workers back to the office, experts say it is possible to incorporate revelations focused on the inclusiveness of working from home into the corporate culture. And to make sure these options help women rather than create new professional barriers, they say, we have to be intentional about it.

Here are five ways they say the return to office life can be improved.

1. Talking about our personal life is now less taboo, and we should continue like this

It’s ironic that employees work from different locations but see each other’s personal lives more than ever before. It can also be a good thing, because it means that the problems of working parents are no longer abstract.

Before the pandemic, “if you had a childcare crisis or if you had to go to the pediatrician or if you wanted to play school, even in a supportive work environment, you may have bypassed this problem, or just left the office, or not mentioned to people where you were going, or been embarrassed about it, ”said Daisy Dowling, author of“ Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids ”and founder and CEO of Workparent, a consulting company focused on working parents. But throughout the pandemic, many people had no choice but to be upfront about what was going on in their lives. Many have seen a colleague bounce their daughter on her lap during a Zoom meeting, for example; others heard a child playing the piano in the background of a call.

By “making staff professional,” as Mackenzie says, we can develop empathy and foster communication about what is most useful to each member of a team. And Dowling said managers can respectfully learn this information by asking open-ended questions, such as, “Are there some ways I would be helpful to you when considering staying in this organization for the long term?” “

2. We should reconsider our approach to teleworking

In May 2020, Twitter was apparently the first company to announce that many employees will never have to return to the office. Over the past few months, many companies have shared plans for a hybrid model consisting of a few days of office work and a few days of remote work.

Vanessa Quigley co-founded photo book company Chatbooks in 2014 with a mission to “strengthen families” through its products as well as its culture, she said. Before the Covid-19 hit, if a staff member had to go to a doctor’s appointment or a school function, that was totally fine, Quigley said, and employees had unlimited paid time off . The company typically required employees to work from its headquarters in Provo, Utah, two days a week, with the option of working from two satellite offices in Utah the other three days to reduce commute times. .

“At the time, it seemed super flexible, super generous,” Quigley said in July 2020. But the pandemic “completely changed” the company’s “definition of flexibility,” she added.

Quigley said the company has realized that employees are absolutely capable of working productively from home. The company has closed those satellite offices permanently in response to the pandemic, traded its Provo headquarters for a smaller, more central space in Lehi, Utah, and no longer has any sort of mandate over the number of days a week that employees have to work from the office.

When Quigley spoke about the effects of the pandemic last year, she said the change would affect hiring as well. While the company had worked hard to emphasize gender diversity – chatbooks said 65% of leadership positions are currently held by women – there was an assumption “that racial diversity was not there. not possible because of where we live and because we believe in everyone working in the same office at least two days a week, ”Quigley said at the time.“ But now that we know we can working remotely in a truly productive way gives, for the first time, the impression that it is possible to have true racial diversity and equality. “

As of March 2020, Chatbooks, which has around 170 employees in total, said it has hired 22 people in around 20 different states.

To make sure that no employee feels at a disadvantage because of their location, Chatbooks “really embraced asynchronous working,” Quigley said in May. When meetings are needed, the company uses what’s called the “one face per square rule”: “If you have a meeting and someone is remote – which is, you know, every meeting. someone is at a distance – so even if a group of people are in the office, everyone has to be on Zoom: one face per square, ”Quigley explained.

3. We should think about all types of flexibility options

Of course, flexibility doesn’t just mean working from home. It can also mean a shift in working hours (for example, to better accommodate the difference between office hours and school hours, or the “childcare crisis between 3 and 5 p.m.” as put it. Atlantic in 2018).

It can even mean a four-day work week – something Bloomberg Businessweek reports that companies in other parts of the world, from Germany to New Zealand, are testing. Lorraine Hariton, president and CEO of Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on promoting women in the workplace, said that in addition to more than 50% of her organization working remotely before Covid, Catalyst had half a day working week.

Ideally – getting back to this whole franchise idea – companies can ask their employees to share the changes they think will help them be most effective, Dowling said.

4. Management training should become a priority

Swetha Sharma, who lives in Atlanta and works as an editorial director in the hospitality industry, gave birth to her second child in February 2019, while working in cable news. She resumed her job in May and in August she realized that she couldn’t continue working for her manager and her team. “I had to take the time – 20 to 30 minutes – twice a day during my working hours to [pump]”she said last summer. And while no one said anything explicitly about it,” there wasn’t always an understanding that this was what I needed to do. “

Sharma quit her full-time job, then started working part-time for another department in the same company with managers who helped her work out a schedule that worked best for her. “It was just a completely different environment and culture within the same company,” said Sharma, adding that even in a company that highly values ​​family life, individual managers make a big difference.

Mackenzie believes the pandemic has put even more emphasis on the important role managers play, and she hopes companies will invest in management training and support now and after we return to the office.

Through her lab focus groups, one-on-one conversations, and community forums at the nonprofit Watermark, where she sits on the board of directors, Mackenzie has discovered that considerate managers have devoted more time in employee care in response to the pandemic, as well as the Black Lives Matter protests last summer following the murder of George Floyd and the recent wave of violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. She said she also noticed more support for working mothers after data showed how disproportionately the pandemic had affected them.

“Managers have really opened their arms wider and tried to take care of employees in a way that we might have overlooked in a face-to-face workplace,” Mackenzie said. “I would therefore like this open door to remain open and for managers to consider the care and development of their employees as part of their responsibility. “

5. We should think about how we support workers outside the office

When companies switched to remote working at the start of the pandemic, some gave their employees a home office budget – money for a new chair or a new desk monitor. This idea of ​​allocation could also be applied in other areas; for example, a recent Catalyst report pointed out that companies might offer child care allowances or programs for parents. (In April, the Biden administration revealed its “American Families Plan,” which, if passed, would potentially offer help with child care, parental leave and more at the federal level.)

“I believe the sense of employee well-being, including everything an employee faces, is on the table in a way that it wasn’t as much before covid,” Mackenzie said.

Five ways the pandemic could benefit long-term working mothers

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