Image courtesy of Alvaro Reyes
The coronavirus pandemic is affecting everyone, but working mothers are among those who are experiencing its effects most acutely. InHerSight, the company ratings platform for women, and HeyMama, a private social and professional network created to propel mothers forward in work and life, surveyed roughly 1,000 women to better understand what policies, resources, and support working mothers need from their employers, employees, coworkers, and partners during the COVID-19 crisis.
Women are doing more work, feeling less productive, and are less satisfied with their jobs
A number of studies in the past five years have found remote employees are more productive than are employees who work in an office. Those studies did not, of course, include a test group of mothers homeschooling children while simultaneously working against the deadline for the quarterly report.
We’re working under strange circumstances, so the typical rules and results of working from home do not apply, which is important for employers, who may look to these statistics to project productivity, to consider when setting expectations for parents on their teams.
Our survey found that almost three in five working moms say they are less productive while working from home during COVID-19, yet two in five say they are doing more work. Additionally, nearly half of women who took our survey say they’re less satisfied with their jobs since working from home and taking care of children at the same time.
When you’re carrying two full-time jobs concurrently—that is, paid work and child care—both will suffer.
What do working moms want at work right now? Flexibility and empathy
From their employers, moms working from home with kids need more flexibility in both work hours and deadlines.
“Flexibility has always been really important to women in general and moms specifically, as they try to balance work and life and make the best decisions for their families,” Ursula Mead, CEO and cofounder of InHerSight, says. “Throw in a pandemic and a lot of our day-to-day needs from regular, non-stressful times become that much more acute and critical.”
According to our survey-takers, flexible work hours due to other demands on time and extended/flexible deadlines are the top two considerations they need from their employers.
The need for child care assistance
Among survey-takers who selected “other” as their answer choice, the most common response was that they would need help with paying for child care from their employers. According to a 2019 survey by InHerSight, less than 9 percent of women say their employer provides any kind of child care assistance, and nearly half of that say the assistance provided is not enough.
And if quarantine and social restrictions continue for the foreseeable future (which we defined as six months or more), working moms say flexible work hours are still number one on their list. After that: paid time off and extended/flexible deadlines for work.
“Flexibility can take a lot of different forms. It can be flexible work hours, deadlines, projects/assignments, or ways to use benefits and capital, and understanding the type of flexibility moms need as they work from home and during the pandemic,” Mead says. “Remember too that identifying your employees' needs and supporting them is good for your business and your team's morale and productivity.”
InHerSight’s data shows that flexible work hours are one of the top five things working mothers want most from their employers, even without the complications of a pandemic. Also on that list, notably, are paid time off and the ability to telecommute. Perhaps a pandemic is what companies needed to understand the demands on working parents and create policies that support them; but will the changes hold? It’s still unclear whether schools and child care facilities will reopen as usual (and if they do, for how long), so unless companies are willing to lose one of the most productive segments in the workforce, they may have to.
Mead says: “People make businesses work and succeed. Women make business work better and succeed more often. But women are being strained to the max right now, and companies have to figure out how to better support them or they are going to lose key talent. What we don't want to see is this hugely important segment of the talent pool increasingly having to step out and voluntarily leave the workforce because support from employers hasn’t kept pace with their changing needs.”
What working moms need from coworkers
When it comes to their colleagues, what working moms want most is simply for their coworkers to understand that they have a lot on their plates right now.
“While the current pandemic has been difficult for everyone, and people who cannot or choose not to have children are facing a slew of challenges, parents—seemingly overnight—became de facto teachers, helping their children navigate e-learning while simultaneously working, caring for any young children they may have, and taking care of their homes,” Katya Libin, CEO and cofounder of HeyMama, says. “Fifty-seven percent of mothers say COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health.
“While most parents cannot understand what it must be like to spend months on end devoid of any human contact—a reality for many single people who’ve been sheltering in place—those without children cannot fully understand what it’s like to lack any personal space or even a moment of solitude during lockdown, either.”
Next on the list are fewer meetings, mental and emotional support, and extended/flexible deadlines. “Given the additional burdens and stressors placed on parents during this time, these findings are hardly surprising,” Libin says. “Just as parents have been forced to find a way to work and care for their children simultaneously, coworkers must find a way to create and sustain a culture of flexibility that fits the needs of working parents.”
Business owners need their employees to be proactive
The needs of women who are taking care of children in the home and running their own businesses are unique.
What these women say they need most is for their employees to anticipate needs and be proactive in helping out. With time and mental energy especially limited right now, female business owners need an understanding and extra elbow grease from their teams to keep the business running.
“This is a large ask, especially if their employees are, like these business owners, parents,” Libin says. “Prior to COVID-19, 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 did paid work, and moms made up 47 percent of the workforce. In a country that has failed to provide mandatory paid leave, affordable health care, and ensure equal pay for equal work, asking employees to anticipate and preemptively react to the needs of their employer feels like a large request.
“But this need also speaks to the ways in which mothers who own businesses are not adequately supported. While it would undoubtedly be beneficial for these business owners to have employees who can read their minds, what entrepreneurial moms really need are systemic support systems at the local, state, and federal level. And, of course, another crucial part of any mom’s support system is her network of other moms—her community. Having access to other women in similar situations and stages of both life and career to lean on and turn to for advice cannot be underestimated.”
And from their clients, female business owners who participated in our survey say they want efficient and streamlined communication, above all.
What working moms need more of at home
Women take on the bulk of child care duties. This is true even in opposite-sex-parent households where both partners do paid work. We asked working moms what they need most from their partners during COVID-19, and while 33 percent say they don’t need anything different from their partners at this time, 28 percent say the number-one thing they want more help with is child care.
According to a study released by Lean In in May 2020, women are spending 20 hours more per week on child care, elder care, and household chores than men do during the pandemic—the equivalent of an (unpaid) part-time job. And this is in households where women have full-time jobs, partners, and children.
Mead says that for some women, this experience could be a wake-up call: “If they had an inkling that the distribution of work was ‘off’ or uneven in some way, working from home while juggling caring for the kids is likely going to be a reality check as women come to terms with the hard truth that the distribution of work at home is still far from equal.”
So we asked working moms whether having the whole family in the house due to stay-at-home orders has revealed anything about the balance of unpaid work in the home, and whether they believed this experience would change that balance following quarantine. The answer was overwhelmingly no on both accounts: 78 percent say they were not surprised by the dynamic, and 72 percent say they don’t think anything will change.
“[The balance of unpaid work] hasn't changed in so many decades...or centuries even,” Mead says. “I think women don't know how to make it change. The resources out there to get from the current distribution of work to a better place just don't exist or aren't meeting women and their partners where it's helpful.”
How to support the needs of working mothers
While our survey reveals common needs of working mothers at work and in the home, all mothers who do paid work will have different individual needs at this time.
Essential workers and mothers who work outside the home, mothers who have been laid off, and even women who are caring for family members who are not their children will need unique support during the COVID-19 crisis.
What every working mother needs will be different, so the best way to support them? Ask. And listen.
About InHerSight and HeyMama
InHerSight is the company ratings platform for women, with ratings and reviews on more than 100K companies in the United States.
HeyMama is a private social and professional network created to propel mothers forward in work and life. It is a community that provides ambitious women—across industries and stages of motherhood—with support, mentorship, and experiences to foster their success. Learn more about how HeyMama helps motherhood and career work better together at www.heymama.co.