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 often shoulder the burden of childcare and elderly care and have been in crisis this past year, struggling to take care of their families, their work responsibilities, and themselves. Since the pandemic has raged on well over the past year now, women have been forced to slow down and/or pause their careers, and/or leave the workplace in unprecedented numbers.
- Roughly 1.4 billion kids were sent home from school and many more from childcare; women were overwhelming responsible for the gap in childcare.
- Even before Covid, women did 2.5 times more domestic care work than men.
- We’ve also seen major increases in reported gender-based violence around the world, Black and Latinx communities disproportionately more likely to become sick with 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.
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. If you are still requiring the “normal” rigidity of the 9-to-5 working schedule, women may be forced 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 and need their full attention, 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, on top of regular work meetings, requirements and responsibilities.
True support requires formal policy changes and resetting expectations across the organization, supported by all levels of leadership, starting from the executive team down. Change needs to go 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 that means thinking outside of a traditional 9 to 5 schedule and resetting expectations to just get the work done at different hours or reducing weekly working hours to 25 or 30, work with the employees to define what would be most supportive to meet their personal and your business needs.
- 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, and 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 - offer 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 such as Calm and Headspace that address depression, stress management and mindfulness techniques.
Communicate, Connect and Normalize
Remote environments require even more communication for employees to feel there is clear, consistent and transparent communication/action and to avoid miscommunication/misinterpretation.
Also keep in mind that some nonparent and/or male employees may view additional support for working women and changes as unequal treatment. This is an 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 of working women and clearly articulate their needs, and observe and address each individual’s situation, and care and understanding needed to best support.
Observe, Learn and Adjust
As vaccines become more widely available and the world is redefining what work, society and the economy will look like, be prepared to shift and change. Policies are meant to be iterative, so keep observing, learning and adjusting to make sure yours are fit for purpose and meeting the needs of employees so your organization can thrive too.