How to Support Your Working Moms

The beginning of 2020 looked promising for the entire workforce, including women.

For the first time in a decade, women held the majority of jobs in the United States , and there was increasing focus on equal pay. Childcare might not have been universally affordable, but it was available. And, mothers were working. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: 72.3% of women with children under 18 were in the labor force in 2019.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and many women (along with other employees) were literally back in the kitchen. Others were faced with trying to continue working outside the home in the midst of a public health crisis while juggling uncertainty and changing childcare needs.

Managing the pandemic’s effect on the U.S. workforce has been and continues to be a major challenge. Employees are feeling the impacts: one in five working parents considered quitting their jobs during the pandemic. As hard as the transition was for all parents, women seemed to suffer the greatest losses including access to childcare and sometimes even their jobs. Clearly, companies need to take steps to support working moms, a vital part of the US workforce.

How the Pandemic Affected Women

COVID-19 shut down many workplaces, schools and childcare centers. Women suddenly working from home had to not only safely maintain households and care for children but also make every Zoom meeting and meet every new deadline. Others weren’t able to work from home and had to navigate a lack of childcare and remote learning while still trying to do their jobs.

Women also disproportionally lost jobs. Unlike past recessions, pandemic unemployment rates hit service sectors more due to the inability to gather. Bars, restaurants and hotels closed, and those industries are dominated by women, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

With businesses closed or moving to remote work, many people were stuck at home, including kids, and parents were often left without childcare options. Grandparents couldn’t pick up the slack, due to the dangers of contracting the virus. Friends and neighbors weren’t an option for the same reason . According to National Bureau of Economic Research, the majority of home schooling and childcare fell to women. Whether it was because their industries were affected or their home situations were exacerbated, more women have left the workforce recently compared to men.

So why is this such a big problem?

Women exiting the workforce undermines their economic security and the security of their families. It can put children at risk for poverty, hunger and homelessness. It reduces diversity in the workplace, and it contributes to the labor shortage companies and the US economy are already facing.

Women and the Existing Worker Shortage

In case you haven’t heard, prior to the pandemic many companies were concerned about finding enough workers to fill current and future positions. According to Korn Ferry, we are in the midst of a 10-year global talent shortage, with the United States looking at a potential deficit of over 6.5 million highly skilled workers. Finding enough employees has been and will continue to be a top concern for employers.

Healthcare is one of the industries predicted to be hit the hardest. According to reports, the United States will need to hire 2.3 new healthcare workers by 2025 just to provide adequate care for our aging population. Guess who works in healthcare? Women have traditionally been the majority of workers in this industry, especially in lower paying roles. If more women are leaving the workforce, employers’ talent pool will shrink even further.

Companies must act now to mitigate the gender inequality associated both with working from home and having a lack of affordable and accessible childcare options. This means employers need to increase support for flexible working schedules, healthy work lifestyles, job security and paid sick leave, according to Yale News.

Ways to Help All Working Parents Succeed

Start a Resource Group Run by Parents. 

According to Benefits Pro, forming a resource group is one of the best strategies to support working parents. Direct the resource group to develop benefits specifically for working parents. The group should be able to share what their biggest pain point is and how the company can help solve it. This could mean providing more childcare benefits, reimbursements, tutoring services and sabbaticals. The solutions should use the right HR partners and include strategies for the long term.

Lead by Example. 

Beyond benefits, encourage leaders to share how they are working while their kids are at home. Benefits Pro suggests sharing stories and challenges is a powerful tool. It lets employees know everyone is in this together; we’re all struggling and that’s okay.

Restructure Your Meeting Schedule. 

Jumping into last-minute meetings is hard when everyone is in the same building, but it’s nearly impossible when some or all employees are working from home. Meetings require more time and effort beyond their scheduled time, so consider the pre- and post-work involved. Forbes suggests reducing meetings to 30 minutes and using 15-minute standups for construction and manufacturing locations. Managers should also prioritize attendance to be respectful of everyone’s time.

Get Flexible with Flex Time. 

Flex time was important before the pandemic and is even more so now. Flex time is defined as compressed schedules, temporarily working part-time and working non-traditional hours like early in the morning, through lunch and at night. Benefits Pro suggests encouraging employees to block out when they’re available and unavailable on calendars.

Employers cannot wait for things to return to normal. There is no more normal. Women are being affected by the pandemic now, and that has a significant impact on them, their families and the overall economy. Employment rates for mothers of young children remain far below their pre-pandemic levels, the lowest of any group in the labor force, according to the New York Times. Getting kids back in school will help but it isn’t the solution either as a full re-opening may not happen this fall. Set a deadline to form a resource group and make policy and program changes now to support your working moms and dads.

Want to read more about the impact of COVID-19 on women? Check out our blog: As Construction Industry Bounces Back, will Women Come Back to the Jobsite?