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Caregivers: Working Women in a Pandemic

The raging pandemic has pushed people beyond reasonable limits, and has adversely affected women disproportionately.

What Organizational Leaders can do

Balancing work and family has always been a challenge, but the pandemic has pushed people beyond reasonable limits, and adversely affected women disproportionately. Women--who often shoulder the burden of childcare and elderly care--have been in crisis this past year, struggling to take care of their families, their work responsibilities, and themselves. Since the pandemic's onset over a year ago, women have been forced to decelerate or pause their careers, or leave the workplace entirely in unprecedented numbers.

The Situation

  • Since the pandemic's onset, roughly 1.4 billion kids were sent home from school--and many more from childcare--leaving women overwhelmingly responsible for closing the gap in childcare.
  • Even before Covid, women did 2.5 times more domestic care work than men.
  • We've seen major increases in reported gender-based violence around the world; Black and Latinx communities disproportionately more likely to become sick or die from COVID-19; and a rise in Covid ‘hate crimes’ against Asians.
  • The UN thinks the pandemic will push 47 million more women into extreme poverty by September 2021.
  • In the US, “Even those women who have retained their jobs know that they are paid, on average, less than men. An analysis of 2018 Census data by the Center for American Progress found that women earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men.”
  • The disparity for women of color (WOC) is even greater.
  • When the US Census data is analyzed by race, “women of color have a larger gap. Black women earn 62 cents for every dollar a man earns while Hispanic women fare even worse, earning 52 cents.”
  • WOC are already more likely to be asked to do office housework and are the most likely to be harassed at work.
  • The past year has been an economic catastrophe for women, especially for WOC.

Against this harrowing backdrop, there are a number of actions companies can take to support working caregivers through the COVID crisis and beyond.

Offer Full Support and Flexibility

Working in a remote home/work environment is tough enough--requiring the “normal” rigidity of the 9-to-5 working schedule may force women to choose between their jobs and their family’s well-being. Nowadays, during regular business hours, women may need time to manage young ones and/or the elderly at home who are completely dependent;, support their school-age kids through homeschooling and/or online classes; manage all the mealtimes and household duties, which have increased tenfold since everyone is home. All this, on top of regular work meetings responsibilities.

True support requires formal policy changes and recalibrating expectations across the organization, endorsed by all levels of leadership from the executive team down. Change needs extend beyond your company’s people managers, as using their discretion on a case-by-case basis may mean inconsistent approaches, applications, and understanding. Some recommendations include:

  • Redefining working hours. Whether it's thinking outside of the traditional 9-to-5 schedule or reducing weekly working hours to 25 or 30, work with employees to define what changes would best support both their personal needs and those of your organization.
  • Apply caregiver leave benefit policies, or institute new caregiver policies, to include time away from work to support childcare, elderly, and family care.
  • Mental health support. Widespread concerns regarding mental health have exploded during the past year, and mothers are especially in crisis. Promote awareness about the importance of mental health and stress management in the workplace and encourage all employees--especially senior leaders--to model healthy behavior and self care. Other ways organizations can support mental health, reduce anxiety and stress, and improve focus and motivation include:
  • Make mental health self-assessment tools available, and/or provide training to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and depression in team members.
  • Encourage employees to seek help from qualified mental health professionals by offering free or subsidized clinical screenings, low-cost counseling, and/or platforms such as Ginger.
  • Provide free or subsidized lifestyle coaching, counseling, or self-management programs.
  • Offer seminars, workshops, and/or platforms like Calm and Headspace that address depression, stress management, and mindfulness techniques.

Communicate, Connect and Normalize

Remote environments require even more communication for employees to cultivate clear and consistent communication channels and avoid misinterpretation.

Also, keep in mind that some childless and/or male employees may view additional support for working women unequal treatment. Seize the opportunity to continue to elevate the conversation around the challenges of being a female, parent, and person of color. Be upfront and honest about the challenges facing working women, and observe and address each individual’s situation in order best support them.

Observe, Learn and Adjust

As vaccines become more widely available and the world redefines what the future of work looks like, be prepared to shift and change. Policies are meant to be iterative, so keep observing, learning, and adjusting to make sure yours are flexible and meet the needs of your employees, so your organization can thrive too.

Leesa (she/her) has 25 years of experience in the Human Resources industry with deep expertise in the areas of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), and Learning and Development. Prior to Enspira, she worked in human resource roles at Biogen, Pfizer and Kforce Inc. She has a proven track record of creating and implementing successful DEIB strategies in a variety of organizational settings which includes a pace setting women on boards program, fit-for-purpose strategic roadmaps, launching and leveraging Employee Resource Groups/Networks and Diversity Councils, creating and leading a years long DEIB-focused community of practice and being an active member of the HR D+I Council. Leesa has a Certificate in Diversity & Inclusion for HR from Cornell’s ILR School, is certified in the ED&I 360 & Inclusive Behavior Inventory Assessment and earned her BFA in Dance from Shenandoah Conservatory. She was also recognized on Mogul’s list of the “Top 100 DEIB Leaders in 2022.” Leesa actively mentors women from underrepresented groups who are passionate in the space of DEIB.

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