Dear Companies: Don’t Talk So Much About Productivity. Focus Instead on Supporting Parents This School Year

COVID-19 has turned every kind of working mom arrangement there was completely on its head, and it is urgent that organizations find new ways—impactful ways—to support their working moms and working women as school starts.

While every woman’s situation is unique, there are some commonalities across us upon which organizations can mobilize, for the purpose of easing employees’ everyday lives. The first step is to stop asking, over and over again, “How do we ensure our workforce is being as productive as possible working from home?” It borders on an insult to the women who have advanced the concept of “multitasking” to spellbinding performance art. Focus instead on how to ease their situation, which of course means that organization policymakers must first understand it.

The key issue in organizations is that, with so few women in the C-suite, or even the executive leadership ranks, CEOs are not likely to understand the intense pressure put specifically on women during this work-from-home pandemic. The CEO and the working women in the organization simply don’t share the same household income and range of choices of how to organize and assign work at home. Here’s what they’re likely to miss:

  • Women were already working harder to be seen, heard and rewarded for their performance before COVID-19.
  • With COVID-19, there are more meetings, and the days are longer, more intense and more exhausting for everyone.
  • The pleasure that once was found in the inherently social nature of work—the casual conversations, the connections with colleagues during the day—is gone.
  • For working parents, the rhythm of having part of their day separate from their kids, who were at school, daycare or home, and rejoining them at the end of it is gone. It’s all family, 24/7, all the time, every day.

For many, but certainly not all, women, research tells us they do a disproportionately larger share of the household chores in heterosexual households—two-plus hours more every day. And somehow, the new job in every house with children—that of the home tutor—has fallen to the female in the majority of those households. My women clients tell me they’re dealing with emails at 6 a.m., and then family and work in an all-out effort until 9 or 10 p.m. Just after they stop for the day, their boss sends out that after-hours email.

So, how can managers support women and homeschooling parents this September?

The strategy is simply this: Ease the lives of the mothers in your workforce.

  1. Immediately include benefits for virtual tutoring for the kids. Provide the funds necessary across the economic spectrum of your working population for tutors to do the teaching at the end of the classroom day.
  2. Host a live speaker series for the men in the organization focused on how they can step up at home and be an equal partner in the entire scope of house and family work. Don’t worry if it’s not “masculine.” (A recent survey found men in the US were not taking reusable shopping bags to the market because they felt it was unmanly). Teach men how all that “unseen” work gets done for home and children, and encourage them to take on their fair share.
  3. Provide anywhere from two days to one week off on a rolling basis across the workforce so people have time to recover and deal with other things. The companies doing this are trying to synch up cross-functional teams for time off so that the group’s workstream is preserved. They find productivity increases with this adjustment.
  4. Host a Virtual Hacks night. Showcase the moms and dads who’ve figured out clever solutions to handling the new challenges brought on by the quarantine. Maybe it’s tips on scheduling regimens, or less-known virtual learning tools for kids.
  5. Last, don’t assume that this household-driven help is all women need. With the same passion they have for family, they also want to have career development discussions, talk about compensation, performance and their future. Be proactive in setting up those discussions! They are on the minds of the women and working moms of your organization just as they are on the minds of their male colleagues.

Written by Susan Hodgkinson for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.