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As a country, we have made monumental and historic advances in the value of women at work. Women today, more than ever, are demanding that their voices be heard in almost every industry, underscoring the pay gap with a consistent rotation that the world can see.
But in 2020 everyone with COVID-19 threw a curveball. The global pandemic has finally shed light on the racial, gender, and socio-economic disparities that have affected every marginalized group – from healthcare to housing. It's hard to ignore the images of people queuing for hours at grocery banks and local grocery stores for basic groceries. There were moments when I thought, "Is that the United States of America?" when I asked how the richest country in the world could not supply its citizens with toilet paper.
According to the Department of Labor, the first wave of pandemic layoffs in March saw more than 700,000 jobs shed. Almost 60 percent of these jobs were held by women. According to the National Women's Rights Center, “women have lost over 8 million net jobs since February 2020, representing 55 percent of the total net job loss since the pandemic began. … While some jobs have returned, many women are not working the hours they want or need. “With all the political gossip about the economic boom, the narrative does not describe the new reality that 41 percent of women are facing – the maternity recession.
Related: Male and female workers experience COVID-19 very differently
Mothers of school-age children are particularly challenged when schools investigate various hybrid, mixed or distance learning models for students for the 2020/2021 school year. This declining impact of the global pandemic will adversely affect working mothers who will eventually earn a seat at the table as they balance the new role of the home team support team.
Dr. Laura Sherbin, economist and executive director of Culture @ Work, a division of Working Mother Media, estimates coronavirus-related anxiety will cost the economy $ 341 billion. With the United States facing a seldom highlighted childcare crisis, women are wrong to sacrifice careers when they are forced to care for their children. Should women be wrongly punished for leaving work to care for their children during a historic crisis? It's a difficult question to answer and a difficult reality. In addition to the pressures of economic uncertainty, working mothers must find a way to balance their ambitions with family responsibilities that are often borne by women.
The economy cannot recover as 41 percent of the labor force cannot apply for childcare and forced closings. Although the country is debating economic recovery, what happens to the mothers who fear the possibility of starting their careers "when" they can start over?
We've all lived in a bubble of man-made perfection where working from home meant you had a designated office area that was quiet and efficient. Most notably, BBC News employee Robert Kelly went viral superstar in 2017 when his two children paused his perfectly-written segment while he was on the air. Three years later, the network aired a story called "Robert Kelly, whose kids crashed the BBC interview, talks about working from home," which featured a day in the life of a working father. Although we all laughed at that delightful moment with no script, there would have been double standards if the same thing had happened to a woman. The judgment would have been, "She can't control her children" or "She doesn't take this opportunity seriously."
Related: When COVID closed her spa, she turned it into a hemp pharmacy
It's not that working mothers don't want to go back to work. There are limited childcare options to ensure they can get back to work. For many working women, their careers are part of their identity. The problem that politicians, employers and decision-makers continue to ignore is that women realize that they can have it all, maybe not all at the same time. However, you don't want to be forced to start over due to unforeseen circumstances beyond your control.
This is how we can all participate to ensure that working mothers are not left behind in a post-COVID-19 society.
Project-based working models
The traditional 9 through 5 are not ideal for working mothers who juggle school-age children without exercising or childcare. Today I juggle distance learning with my teenage son while running my business through Zoom and it's a real challenge, even with help. By creating date-specific workflows, I have the flexibility to support my child with tasks while staying on target with the stakeholders.
Consider a project-based approach that includes a fuller look at the lives of parents struggling to get to that 9 o'clock zoom meeting. The project-based approach gives working mothers the time to create an agenda to incorporate their personal life into their career goals.
Focus on mental health
In a recent study, mothers with young children have a three to five fold increase in self-reported anxiety and depression symptoms. I recently had the chance to speak to Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and co-founder of Lean In, about the state of black women in American companies. She says women do an average of 21 hours of housework per week in addition to their actual job.
The rise in parental mental illness is a crisis caused by the pandemic due to the new support that parents provide for their children. Indeed, children process the same stressors as adults, while we continue to raise their concerns about the health risks of social interaction. Remember, mothers who are now forced to forego their professional ambitions to return to the role of primary childcare provider are also juggling their children's worries while offsetting their own pandemic fears. The news and the endless deluge of negative information can affect your anxiety and lead to depression.
Start your Zoom meetings with empathy, compassion, and a mental health review. Working mothers really miss their peers and the value of their careers. Watch for signs of overexertion and stress, and remind them that the company is committed to wellness at all times.
Related: Is COVID-19 A Mental Health Tipping Point?
Ask for their feedback
My company works daily with women who start to underestimate the value of their work and their contributions because they are no longer in the office. I recently spoke to an executive who mentioned that her boss kept mute her during Zoom meetings because her toddler was screaming in the background, which made her feel isolated from the team.
Remember life happens. Mothers, out of shame, apologize for their children's actions in public. When you consistently mute your team, you mute the voices of mothers who are focused on multiple events at once. Ask her for her opinion regardless of what she's juggling in the background.