This week, during a rare moment when our son was sleeping and my husband and I weren’t on Zoom calls, he turned to me and said “Can you imagine going back to the office and not being around this little guy all day? We’d miss so much!” In fact, I can very much imagine it. That photo is what #workfromhomewithkids looks like 98% of the time. If you're seeing other photos, you're seeing our aspirations.
At this point though, a return to the office is looking increasingly distant, especially for working parents. For starters, we can’t do anything until there is child care. We don’t know when schools and daycares will reopen, but we do know they’ll look different (limited spots, staggered attendance, etc). And even if we do see a bailout for daycare centers, many will never reopen, creating an even greater shortage.
Despite the bleak outlook, I’m still hopeful that we’ll ultimately see better policies for working parents. My fear? That it’s going to be too late for many working moms.
The data keeps rolling in, and it isn’t pretty. However you slice and dice it, moms are getting the short end of the stick. We’re spending more hours on childcare and household work than male counterparts, we’re losing jobs and getting furloughed at higher rates than anyone else, and when it comes to “voluntarily” quitting for family reasons? You guessed it. That’s us too. People keep asking “will this pandemic hurt working women?” It already is.
Motherhood was already the single largest career off-ramp, now that’s expanding, not shrinking. Just today I spoke to a working mom who has struggled to stay in her career after the birth of each of her three kids. There were trying times and she almost left on multiple occasions, but she values her career and her work and she persevered. Her youngest is now almost 5, he is supposed to be starting school in the fall. She thought she had finally cleared one hurdle and might have a little time to reinvest in her career. Because of this current situation, she’s now seriously considering leaving her job. She’s not alone.
It comes as no surprise that childcare is the main driver: 76% of mothers and 96% of fathers with children under the age of 6 work full time, but we only guarantee care and education for kids ages 5-18 in this country, and right now everything is closed. And it’s not just young children, 40% of American workers between 20 and 54 have children at home, and at least one parent may have to stay home with those kids if schools don’t fully open this fall. That’s a whole lot of parents who are scrambling to find care in a country that was short on affordable care before this crisis began.
If you think this is just a problem for the parents at your company, you’re wrong; it will impact the entire firm. If women continue to leave work in increasingly higher numbers because they are not getting the support they need, companies will lose talent and profits - not to mention reputation and morale. I do not need to argue the strengths of working parents or the importance of diverse leadership when it comes to successful employees and companies: both have been proven over and over again. And yet many companies refuse to believe the numbers.
One thing that this pandemic has made strikingly clear is that parents with kids of all ages struggle to integrate career and home - and we all need far more help than we’re getting. At most companies, the only time someone is visible as a parent is if they’re pregnant. COVID19 has changed that, and we’re all suddenly becoming aware of just how many parents there are. Currently, all corporate benefits for parents center around pregnancy. What we’re seeing now is that it’s equally important to support parents at every stage of their journey. Every parent I talk with has a different challenge depending on how old their kids are. No one has it easier than anyone else; the challenges just change overtime.
That is why it’s so critical to implement additional caregiving benefits if we have any chance of keeping parents, and moms, in the workplace. Childcare is crucial, but parents also need things like true flex time, managerial support, coaching and expert resources, and last but not least - a community of peers. That is why we built Kunik. We’re already isolated in our homes, what we need more than ever is the comfort and relief of talking to other people who are in the exact same position and understand what we’re going through - no explanation needed.
It’s time to get creative and collaborative when it comes to supporting caregivers. Employers and providers need to think outside the box about how we can provide ongoing support to working parents and keep that valuable talent in the workforce.
Parents, employers, co-workers - let’s hear your ideas. Someone on a conference recently said a coworker performed 45 minutes of clown acts to keep her kids occupied, so no idea is too wacky!