This Mother’s Day comes over a year after COVID-19 first caused mass lockdowns and the requirement of nationwide safety measures like mask wearing, social distancing and working from home. Women—and particularly caregivers and parents—have experienced perhaps the most dramatic impact as the women’s labor force participation rate has dropped to the lowest it’s been in more than 30 years.
In a recent survey of over 600 women who worked full-time as of March 1, 2020, 58% who reduced their hours or left work completely had children under the age of 18. 50% said they were a primary or sole caregiver of someone else, such as a parent or relative—33% of whom said they became the primary caregiver after the pandemic hit.1
In this article, we explore survey results that indicate the impact of COVID-19 on working women with simple ways you can support the parents and caregivers in your life this Mother’s Day.
Report: Working moms, parents and caregivers during COVID-19
Women bear a disproportionate brunt as COVID-19 continues to keep children home from school, change their everyday routines, affect jobs in certain industries and introduce new challenges as many continue to work from home. The two main themes that came from survey responses were increased stress as parents are required to balance work and caregiving duties, and lack of workplace support as they do so.
Increased stress and anxiety balancing work and caregiving duties
The burden of emotional labor widely falls on women, which has increased responsibilities for women as a result of COVID-19. The term “emotional labor” was first coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her 1983 book The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Emotional labor is the process of managing feelings to meet the requirements of a job.
According to Hochschild, people in roles that require emotional labor are more likely to experience higher levels of stress and burnout—and there is a stark gender gap in roles that require emotional labor. Research from Nova Southeastern University found that women were more likely to perform emotional labor than men in the same roles, forcing emotions they didn’t feel to convey empathy, optimism and calmness.
Women are also carrying the burden of emotional labor outside of the workplace, with many women managing the emotions of their children and/or spouse in the home to keep the peace and facilitate order.
According to a Gallup poll, women married or partnered in a heterosexual relationship are more likely to take on the bulk of domestic work. While this includes common household chores where physical labor is involved like cooking and cleaning, it also includes activities like planning family activities and caring for children—tasks that require significant emotional labor.
According to our survey, women who reduced or left work indicated that they spend on average 24 hours per week on caregiving duties—and 47% agreed that stress and anxiety from the pandemic have made their caretaking duties more challenging. In fact, 79% of respondents agreed that the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. 86% of respondents reported that had it not been for the pandemic, they would not have changed their work status, and 70% said the pandemic made it too challenging to handle a full-time role.
Lack of workplace support
Furthermore, survey respondents agreed that lack of support from employers made it feel impossible for them to stay in their roles full time. McKinsey also reports that Black women are less likely than men or women of other races to feel supported by their managers.
Here’s how respondents identified lack of support as a factor in their decision to reduce working hours or leave work altogether:
- 63% said that had their company been more proactive in accommodating their needs, they would have stayed working full time
- 70% agreed that they did not receive the support from management they needed to manage both work and home life during the pandemic
- 60% said their manager was unsympathetic to the realities and challenges the pandemic brought upon employees
- 71% reported little to no flexibility in terms of their work schedule
6 ways you can support parents and caregivers this Mother’s Day
1. Practice flexibility, understanding and empathy.
When asked what employers could have done to retain them, 55% of survey respondents said they could have offered more flexibility in terms of their schedule. 51% said they could have made an effort to understand the new reality and challenges that come from working through a pandemic, and 49% said they could’ve been more patient as they worked through integrating their work and personal lives.
When it comes to putting understanding and empathy into practice, a great way to start is by asking people how they’re doing—and then actually listening. Doing so can help you better understand more specific steps you can take to support your team members or colleagues with caregiving responsibilities, whether that’s continuing to check in with them, making sure you’re scheduling work and meetings in line with their availability or helping offload some of their responsibilities temporarily while they find new ways to work that accommodate their situation.
2. Manage parents and caregivers with fairness and compassion.
Data from the survey made it clear that women who were able to continue working full time had understanding, flexible and empathetic managers who consistently asked what they could do to offer them support:
- 87% of respondents still working full time said their manager has been patient while they work to balance work and home life
- 86% of respondents still working full time said their manager has been sympathetic to the realities and challenges the pandemic brought upon employees
- 72% of respondents still working full time said they have been provided with flexibility in terms of their work schedule
Checking in with your reports consistently to understand specific ways you can help them achieve their best work life while attending to responsibilities at home is crucial to retaining and motivating parents and caregivers.
Some other ways to manage parents and caregivers through a lens of allyship includes:
Hiring and promoting parents and caregivers. Representation matters, and when women and moms are in positions of leadership, they can advocate to ensure a company’s culture, benefits, and policies are more inclusive.
Advocating for equal pay. It's critical to ensure parents and caregivers are paid fairly for their work. Because overall mothers are paid less than fathers, being an advocate for equitable compensation during review cycles and promotion periods is a great way to practice allyship both for your team and for the larger community.
This is especially important for mothers and caregivers of color. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the wage gap is even wider for many mothers of color: “Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) mothers are paid 89 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers, white, non-Hispanic mothers are paid 69 cents; Black mothers are paid 50 cents; Native American mothers are paid 47 cents; and Latina mothers are paid just 45 cents.”
Supporting their career growth. One study showed that evaluators systematically rated childless women and fathers significantly higher than mothers on competency, work commitment, promote-ability, and recommendations for hire. Furthermore, McKinsey reports that “For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted—and this gap was even larger for some women: only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted.”
It's best to set aside time to plan career discussions before and after parental leave to ensure both you and your reports understand the steps you need to take to achieve their professional goals.
Planning ahead to support leave. Make sure you plan to secure the talent and resources you need to account for parental leave and other time off that may be necessary as parents and caregivers attend to their responsibilities at home.
Promoting self care. Consistently vocalize the importance of self care, including work-life integration and attention to mental health. Encourage your team so they understand that they can bring their authentic self to work and not be judged or penalized for it in any way.
3. Recognize and articulate the value of caregiving.
While many mothers, parents and caregivers have taken time off work or reduced their work hours, they continue to gain valuable skills that make them strong team members and desirable job candidates.
Here are just a few of the skills parents and caregivers build and demonstrate at home:
4. Speak up when you see bias.
There may be instances in the workplace when people act from their biases, knowingly or not, that may harm parents and caregivers in some way. For example, survey respondents reported that their employer, boss or peers took advantage of times when they weren’t available: 65% reported that they scheduled decision-making meetings specifically when they weren’t able to attend, 40% said they made hiring decisions that impacted them or their team without them, and 33% said they made strategic decisions that impacted their work without them.
There are many small ways bias can present itself in the workplace on a day-to-day basis. As an ally, it's important to kindly call out these instances when we notice them, correcting harmful behavior in an empathetic and professional manner.
5. Gain a deeper understanding of systemic barriers and challenges.
There are many complex reasons why parents and caregivers, and more specifically women of color and moms, bear the brunt of caregiving duties and have therefore been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Taking time to understand those issues is a great first step in allyship.
Here are just a few you can start to spend more time with:
Work-family conflict: Finding better solutions to balance professional and caregiving responsibilities may lead to more nontraditional practices and routines. For example, 44% of mothers with a child under the age of 18 say that, ideally, they’d like to work a part-time schedule.
While working moms spend more time on caregiving today than stay-at-home moms 40+ years ago, fathers also suffer from traditional work life as they take more active roles in caregiving [compared to decades past. Furthermore, as a result of the aging population, many millennials will likely take on more caregiving responsibilities and may care for kids and elderly family members at the same time. Because parents make up a large percentage of the workforce, we must continue calling into question the best ways to be a working caregiver.
Parental leave: The U.S. does not have a federally-funded paid leave policy. This means it’s up to companies to decide on a length of leave and fund it, which can range from three to four weeks to about 12 weeks leave on average. In some other countries, one year is standard.
Gender pay gap: While high-earning moms lose up to 10% of their income with every child, men get a 6% bonus.
Unconscious bias: “Maternal wall” bias occurs when colleagues view mothers or pregnant women as less competent and less committed to their jobs. Evaluators in an experiment systematically rated childless women and fathers significantly higher than mothers on competency, work commitment, promote-ability, and recommendations for hire.
Belonging: Since being a parent and caregiver is an “invisible” diversity trait, it’s not often discussed in the workplace. It's also true that Black women are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women and more likely to experience complications and trauma during birth.
6. When in doubt, just ask.
70% of survey respondents report that had their manager/employer simply asked what they could have done to support them during the pandemic, they would have stayed in their jobs full time. Whether you manage parents or caregivers or simply work alongside them, simply asking what you can do to make integrating their professional and personal responsibilities easier goes a long way.
For tips on re-entering the workforce as a parent or caregiver, register for our upcoming Job Cast, Tips for Parents and Caregivers Returning to the Workforce on Tuesday, June 1, 2021, at 10:00–11:00 am PT, 1:00–2:00 pm ET.
1 Indeed survey, n=600