Amid the tragic loss and shocking statistics coming out of the recent surge in coronavirus cases, another deleterious side effect of the current pandemic may be employment opportunities for working parents, especially women.
A Nov. 19 report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found half of the employers who said they lost employees due to the pandemic cited child care concerns. It reinforces earlier reports that found women were taking on more child care responsibilities and bearing the burden of lost work. The National Women’s Law Center found four times more women than men dropped out of the labor force in September, and the unemployment rate for Black and Latina women was double the pre-pandemic level. Those working moms still able to balance child care and their careers are feeling high levels of anxiety and stress, and the larger pressures to be perfect parents in an untenable situation.
With pandemic-era working conditions set to be in play for months, what can be done? Many companies have looked to adopt alternative work arrangements, but it’s not universal. A survey by Willis Towers Watson, a global insurance and advisory firm, found that just 37% of companies created formal policies in 2020, with 60% saying they’d consider creating such policies next year. Two management professors told Harvard Business Review that it was important that firms focus on providing certainty and clarity, rightsizing expectations for working parents pulled in multiple directions, and practice empathy with strained caregivers.
Others suggest creating new spaces that can assist mothers. JLL Vice President, Brokerage, Integrated Portfolio Solutions Gabrielle Harvey suggested offices take advantage of the larger volume of unused space to provide child care options for parents, who can focus at the office while providing children with supervision.
Workplace strategist Jennifer Magnolfi Astill said that one of the most lasting impacts of the pandemic will be an “extreme humanizing” of work relations. Zoom meetings and children scurrying in the background have made it imperative we have empathy for the personal situations of others. Ideally, this shift can lead to more supportive solutions for parents, and the flexibility and policy that can keep more talent from feeling like they need to leave the job due to child care shortcomings.