Over two million women have left the workforce during the pandemic, largely because of the impossible nature of working, caregiving and home schooling around the clock under the same roof. As workplaces look to open up again, bringing people back into the office, there’s another wave of challenges ahead for the women who have been able to hang on by their fingernails: hybrid schedules.
Citigroup, Google, Walmart, Target and Microsoft are among some of the behemoth companies already planning for just a few days back in the office and a couple at home. Honestly, as someone who runs a business focused on helping employers recruit and retain women talent and who has been writing and speaking about the benefits of flexibility for years, a good hybrid model sounds amazing.
But it’s not going to come without challenges for mothers, who continue to do the bulk of household chores and caregiving, at least in the beginning and as the system gets ironed out.
The problem is, that while things are improving as we move closer to herd immunity thanks to the Covid-19 vaccine, we are still nowhere near back to normal.
Some school districts still have not reopened, and those that have are operating at a limited capacity — in some cases kids are going to school for one or two hours a day, for just a few days a week. And after school care and sports and other after school activities are continually evolving in what is allowed or not, making it impossible to plan for a consistent schedule. Can you relate? (Hand raised here.)
Opening up workplaces in person again is not going to be like flipping a switch and employers need to recognize it won’t be a one size fits all situation. And they’ll need to be on the look out for situations that would penalize someone.
For example, if a team decides they’ll go into the office Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, what happens if the one woman on the team can’t make it because her partner, an essential worker, is also out of the house that day and school isn’t meeting on Tuesdays?
Companies will need to do the work to train managers to manage for performance and not face time. They’re going to lead from the top when it comes to modeling the flexible work programs that the company has created. They should consider investing in child care support for employees (backup options, stipends and more).
And they should go back to the basics with good communication and simple common sense: leave mothers alone between the hours of 5 and 8 p.m. Child care centers and schools all close at 6 p.m. Caregivers in the home often leave at 6 p.m. Mothers (and yes fathers too) need to leave with enough time to meet these deadlines. From then on, kids are climbing into the car or walking with home you. They’re ready for dinner, hoping to connect with parents or vice versa (we see you teen parents!), and there’s a routine to head everyone to bed.
The loyalty gained from a simple shift in thinking will go along way in the workplace reboot and in retaining valuable women talent for years to come.
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