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  1. Blog
  2. Employer Resources
  3. October 13, 2020

Study: What Employers Can Do to Keep Moms in the Workforce

60% of working moms say the effects of the pandemic could push them out of work

Mom working at home and taking care of her baby
Image courtesy of Brian Wangenheim

The U.S. has a working culture that does not make it a priority to support people as parents and as professionals, and women are most often the ones who pick up the slack. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this problem.

Women are more likely to be primary caregivers in the home, and women take on more housework; inflexible 9-to-5 schedules don’t make it easy for parents to take care of children, and women are more likely to adjust their careers or leave their jobs to care for children or aging family members.

A culture that was unprepared for remote (or even hybrid remote/in-person) schooling, unprepared for child care centers to close or to financially support the care economy, unprepared for parents who would need to take care of children and do paid work—often outside the home—concurrently, has jeopardized the careers of working moms.

In April 2020, Syndio published a survey that found 14 percent of women with children in the home have considered leaving the workforce as a result of the pandemic. That was only weeks after a federal state of emergency was declared on March 13. At the time we had no idea how long we would be quarantined in our homes, how much risk essential workers would be taking on, or just how different our lives would be months later.

So, how are moms who do paid work feeling now about their ability to stay in the workforce, and what can employers do to help keep moms working?

Because our traditional work culture creates unnecessary hurdles for working parents, we see ample opportunity for employers to help prevent the labor force bleeding one of its most productive segments. To better understand how they can play a key role in keeping moms working, InHerSight, in partnership with Helpr and Winnie, surveyed more than 800 women who have children in the home about their stressors, problems, and needs as it relates to work and caring for their children during COVID-19.

Sixty-eight percent of moms have considered quitting their jobs in order to take care of their children as a result of COVID-19

A whopping 68 percent of women we surveyed say they have considered quitting their jobs to take care of their children as a result of COVID-19. That percentage is even higher—74 percent—among women who are working outside the home.

And we’re already seeing some of these women take the plunge: More than 800,000 women left the workforce in September 2020 alone (that’s four times more women than men), and more jobs will be threatened as the pandemic continues.

This is after 62 percent of women have already modified work hours in order to take care of their children. Modifying work hours is less common among essential workers and those working outside the home, and that’s not necessarily for lack of trying—it’s likely because this option isn’t as available to them as it is to those whose jobs are classified as nonessential or allow them to work from home.

Percentage of working moms who have considered quitting their jobs to take care of their children as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic

All respondents

68%

Essential workers

68%

Nonessential workers

53%

Those working from home

54%

Those working outside the home

74%

The biggest stressor for moms? Lack of child care

Women with children say their most significant source of stress while working during COVID is lack of child care affecting their ability to work (21 percent). That lack of child care may be a result of the dangers that inherently come from living in a pandemic. For women across all segments, finding child care that protects the health and safety of their family is the number-one child care–related challenge.

“The safety of child care providers is a top concern for parents, now more than ever. We recently added information on Winnie that details what COVID-19 health and safety measures each provider is taking,” Sara Mauskopf, cofounder and CEO of Winnie, says. “Parents are seeking out this information when choosing a child care provider.”

But unless child care providers get financial help, it will become increasingly difficult to find child care at all. According to a nationwide survey of child care providers by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), roughly 40 percent of respondents say they are certain “they will permanently close unless they receive more public assistance.” “It's one thing to face a temporary loss of access because of safety concerns, but if nearly half of providers can't reopen, parents will be forced to reevaluate their options altogether,” Ursula Mead, CEO and cofounder of InHerSight, says. 

Behind lack of child care, the greatest stressors are not having enough money to cover basic expenses (17 percent), and needing to quit or change jobs to take care of their children (15 percent). 

Among women who work outside the home, who are more at risk of coming in contact with the virus, the most significant source of stress is the possibility of someone in their family getting sick (22 percent).  

More than half of working moms say it’s likely the effects of COVID-19 will push them out of the workforce

Sixty percent of working moms say it’s at least somewhat likely the effects of COVID-19 will push them out of the workforce.

“With women shouldering so much of the child care crisis and no clear end in sight, I’m not surprised that the majority of working moms see the juggling act as unsustainable, and there’s a lot riding on how companies (and partners) respond,” Mead says.

“At InHerSight we talk to companies every day that understand the risk of losing this key talent and who want to think creatively about ways to better support their working parents to help retain them. For many of these companies, their productivity, and often their gender diversity, depend on it. More than 20 percent of employers have already lost talent due to the lack of child care, and women are twice as likely to leave their employer due to their work experience during the pandemic.”

Essential workers and those working outside the home are most likely to say the effects of the pandemic could push them out of the workforce. 

How likely do you think it is that the effects of the pandemic will push you out of the workforce?

Essential worker

Nonessential worker

Those working from home

Those working outside the home

All respondents

Unlikely

36%

48%

48%

29%

40%

Somewhat likely

44%

39%

40%

44%

43%

Very likely

21%

13%

12%

27%

17%

What employers can do to keep moms working

Flexibility and remote work

Give your workers as much flexibility as possible when it comes to working hours and schedules. And if your workforce can work remotely, let them do so. For many employers, these benefits come at no cost.

We asked working moms what they most need from their employers as they juggle paid work and child care. Thirty-six percent say flexible work hours/schedule or a change in work hours, and 32 percent of moms say the ability to work from home is what they need. 

We know that schedule flexibility and the ability to work remotely are two of the benefits working moms need most, even without the complications of a pandemic. Rigid schedules don’t make it possible to shuttle children to and from school or events, and the inability to work from home can mean lost pay when a child is sick, or as we’re seeing now, when schools aren’t open for students to attend in person. 

If it’s not possible for your labor force to work remotely, then provide them with child care assistance and ample paid time off, which can help close the gaps when child care falls through or a child or other family member is sick.

Child care assistance

According to our survey takers, child care assistance is the third most important way employers can help working moms: Stipends that can be applied to a child care option of choice is the most popular option for an employer-sponsored child care benefit (47 percent), with the provision of a child care option, such as on-site daycare or a nanny-share, coming in second place (20 percent). These options were most popular among all moms, whether essential workers or nonessential, whether working from home or outside the home.

“The cost of child care had already been referred to as a crisis before the pandemic, and now we're at a fever pitch,” Kasey Edwards, CEO and founder of Helpr, says. “In higher ed, we see much more sharing of costs to subsidize tuition rates for students, but in early education and child care in the U.S., the full responsibility is on the parents. The pandemic has been incredibly effective at showcasing to companies their role in sharing costs and the return on investment. It's keeping folks from leaving their jobs through guidance and subsidy and preventing major brain drain. At Helpr, we think the increased participation of companies in care support will have a long-term effect on how we shape care costs in our country, and that this will ultimately be a good thing.”

Safety

Moms who work outside the home identify their number-one stressor as someone in their family getting sick. If your employees are unable to work from home, it’s critical that you provide them with ample personal protective equipment, make it possible for all employees to practice social distancing, and follow or exceed the CDC’s guidelines for returning to work. Document, regularly communicate, and enforce safety measures and guidelines for all employees.

Working outside the home also brings with it increased risk of coming in contact with the virus, so couple your safety measures with plenty of paid time off and COVID testing support.

Extend parental benefits to everyone

It’s important that employers don’t limit these benefits only to women who have children. Benefits like these should be made available to all working parents, and wherever possible, the workforce as whole. 

Providing parental benefits only to women ignores the needs of same-sex, non-gender-conforming, and single-parent families and reinforces the stereotype and expectation that women, not men, are caregivers. 

Consider also that parental discrimination is a problem (32 percent of women say they’ve experienced it) and extending certain benefits only to parents can breed resentment in the workforce.

Benefits like flexibility, remote work, and paid time off are good for the labor force as a whole. They can improve job satisfaction, morale, and employee retention; and they make it possible for employees, regardless of gender or parental status, to care for other family members and for themselves.

Methodology

Based on a survey of 842 working mothers with children in the home in August 2020. Seventy percent of respondents work from home, 30 percent work outside the home; 62 percent of respondents are nonessential workers, 38 percent of respondents are essential workers.

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Photo of Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Content Strategist, InHerSight

Emily is on staff at InHerSight where she researches and writes about data that describes women in the workplace, specifically societal barriers to advancement, and workplace rights. Her bylines include Fast Company and The Glossary Co.

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