Recently, The New York Times devoted a section to the crisis that working mothers are facing with the unprecedented juggling of working remotely, home-schooling, and personal and family responsibilities.
A few examples: Among employees who saw benefits from working at home, 34 percent of men said they received promotions versus 9 percent of women. Further, 66 percent of mothers surveyed said they, rather than their partners, were responsible for child care. And, 69 percent of mothers versus 51 percent of fathers say they are experiencing adverse health effects due to worry and stress.
Working mothers also pinpointed a number of stressors that continually come into play as they strive to keep their professional and personal lives on track: chaos, resignation, exhaustion and resentment.
How can managers help working moms stay optimistic, motivated and productive?
At WOMEN Unlimited Inc., many of our program participants are working moms at all career levels. Since early 2020 and the onset of working remotely, we have often heard them voice similar concerns and frustrations.
Let me be clear: There is no one-size-fits-all solution. There is no magic bullet to remedy the issues that working moms are facing. They will be with us long after the pandemic. However, working with thousands of women and reaching out to their managers throughout the pandemic has shown us that enlightened concern and targeted strategies by women’s managers can go a long way to both ameliorate their frustrations and keep them employed.
First and foremost, to successfully dial down the pressure for working moms, managers must understand that the realities working mothers face are different from those of their male colleagues and those of women without children. Certainly, that point comes across loud and clear in the NY Times analysis. As a result, managers must work “unusually” rather than “usually” with moms who report to them. Here are some approaches that have proven most productive:
Prioritizing. Managers can play a key role in helping working moms focus on “need-to’s” rather than “nice-to’s.” Through frequent and precise communication, managers can clarify and update what is expected both immediately and in the long term. By helping working moms shed unnecessary tasks, managers help them shed unnecessary stress. Managers can also encourage them to delegate more, combatting the “go it alone” tendency many women cling to.
Being flexible. COVID has forced us all to rethink how we work. With the pressures of home-schooling, child care and family responsibilities, few working moms define their day as 9-to-5. Learning to be more flexible and creative about their hours and patterns of working is an important de-stressor for working moms. Successful managers accept that reality and accommodate accordingly. They also help working moms realize that as long as the job gets done, there should be no guilt about how or when it does.
Taking a holistic approach. Managers who are successful in helping working moms remain productive and motivated understand that the home-work balance is an ongoing struggle. They are aware of the physical and psychological stressors these women face, and they encourage working moms to recharge and focus on their individual well-being. They let them know their future with the organization is bright, providing a reason to soldier on through the challenges. They lead by example, focusing realistically on resilience and optimism.
When managers act as true leaders, customizing their management style and strategy to the needs of the individuals on their team, the benefits are many. Working moms become more capable of handling both work and personal responsibilities, and they stress less about getting things done and become more optimistic about the present and future. Additionally, the organization increases its retention of talented women at all levels and takes a big step forward in expanding its diverse talent pipeline, a proven contributor to growth and profitability.
Truly, I cannot think of a better example of win/win.