During every crisis it seems like women are the ones who step up to the mark; but often are left as collateral damage.
During both the first and second world wars, women’s employment rate increased beyond recognition. Yet women were pushed “back into the kitchen” as the Trade Unions sought reassurance that this change was only temporary.
You would assume that this gender wars of work during crisis would have been consigned to the history books. The experience of many working mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic shows that this is very far from the truth. How have women become the collateral damage during this crisis, again?
Lockdown was announced to start on 23rd March. All schools shut to non-keyworkers, and everyone began to work from home, if they could. Beyond the shock and the confusion, many working parents asked, “How am I going to work and care for my children?”
The expectation across the board was that school age children would be taught at home; no consideration was given to the dynamics within the family. It was clear that the ‘powers that be’ had the belief there would be one parent available to care and teach at all times. We all know that this isn’t the case.
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We live in a time, thankfully, where the technology is available to have virtual learning, remote working and flexible hours; but the reality of this is something very different.
As a self-employed person, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid; my other half is a keyworker and was expected to delivery a full day of work from home. We have two kids; one who is VERY self-sufficient and another than needs a lot of 1:1 time and attention. We had just enough IT, space in the house for workspace, and the time in the day to work around our employers, clients and teacher’s needs.
We were one of the lucky ones
Pregnant Then Screwed‘s recent survey, “Childcare, Covid and Career: The true scale of the crisis facing working parents” is a striking read. Their landmark survey of 20,000 working mothers in the UK has some stark figures that show how this is impacting women, yet again:
- 46% of mothers made redundant blame lack of childcare provision during the pandemic
- 72% of mothers have had to work fewer hours due to childcare issues
- 65% of mothers who have been furloughed say lack of childcare was the reason
- 81% of mothers NEED childcare to be able to work
- 74% of self-employed mothers have had their earning potential reduced
- 61% believe their maternity leave, and 53% believe their pregnancy, was a factor in the redundancy decision
Removing this percentage of working women from the job market is unacceptable; at a time when it was reported that at the height of lockdown, 60% of the adult population were working from home, it is possible to balance home work with children when one, significant thing happens.
We Must Stop Rewarding Presenteeism
As a career coach, I have heard first-hand from working parents whose organisations have be sensitive and considerate to the caring responsibilities of their staff during these times. They have considered the ethos, so clearly communicated through this recent tweet:
“You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.”— Neil Webb (@neilmwebb) March 31, 2020
I’ve heard this twice today. I think it’s an important distinction worth emphasising.
They understand that no-one can be all things to all people and have considered the needs of all of their team with this unexpected change in work-life balance.
Furlough was offered as part and parcel of a variety of options to manage the mental load, that was more than often falling on the shoulders of the women, and the mothers in their team; but not before understanding what simple tweaks in working hours or responsibilities could make.
We are in the fourth-industrial revolution right now. The last time this happened, factory production lines bought many people out of their homes, away from the cottage industries where they work live and work in the same place.
Instead, we were told that we had to work at the same time, at the same place; hence the modern day cultures of presenteeism; being judged on the hours you work, not the output you create.
However, the past five months have reminded us that work is not limited to set hours or locations; the end result is what counts. The fourth industrial revolution is bringing work back into the home.
What can we do for those that are treated unfairly?
What can we do for the women that have been treated the most unfairly? Remember that this is not about you. It’s a cultural issue that, in my professional experience, doesn’t exist everywhere.
What I want to send though this page is hope. Forward thinking companies, who have realised the impact of truly flexible work. They embrace working parents, and understand that the end result is what counts.. Consequently, they are the ones who are rising out of the ashes of this pandemic.
Every day I see another report of offices being closed as remote working is being embraced. Organisations are offering truly flexible work and even innovative businesses rethinking what childcare looks like!
Everyone that I have spoken to, both personally and professionally, are revaluating what is really important to them. Some have discovered an entrepreneurial spark, and they are considering going out on their own, so that they are not held to career ransom by outdated business practises.
Our future is in our hands now.
Join me in the promise that we will shout loud and proud about the value we bring to the world. To hold those accountable for allowing working mothers to be pushed to the side. To not reduce our skills, our potential, or our wellbeing to fit into the boxes that others expect from us.
And finally, to not wait for others to change; to place our efforts and time with the organisations that have the working cultures we deserve.
Clara Wilcox is a straight-talking, practical and experienced coach helping clients navigate the tricky waters of returning to work, career changes and professional development. An avid reader, and member of THREE book clubs (including The Motherload®® Book Club) she is also a blogger and author of “What Now? An Honest Guide to Miscarriage, Baby Loss, Parenting, Mental Health and Rebuilding Your Identity”