Two weeks ago, I found myself having to take a call with a client with my two children in the background. It was a mess.
My children, 3 and 8 years old, were initially well behaved, but as any parents knows, things can go south in less than a minute.
Unfortunately for my eldest son, the younger one knocked over a very labor intensive Lego masterpiece that the older one made, and well, all hell broke loose from there. With loud screams and cries in the background, I quickly excused myself from the call, and told the client I’d call him back as soon as possible. Needless to say, I was mortified.
With more and more parents sharing their struggles about working from home with children, I consider myself one of the lucky ones;
- I live in a gender-equal household with a hands-on husband,
- I have colleagues who are flexible and understanding
- I work in a distributed environment, allowing me to lead a healthy work-life balance.
So Why Was I Still Worried?
Even in this inclusive environment, there is still this pressure for women to excel at it all. And while some of the pressure is self-induced, as a woman, it is not lost on me that having my children on calls is perceived very differently than when my husband has our children on the calls.
When my husband has our children on a call, it’s seen as “cute” and “oh isn’t he just the best dad!” - when I have my children on calls, it feels tolerated.
Take for example the BBC interview with Professor Robert Kelly; would that video had gone viral had it been a mother? I can’t help but think that the world would have perceived the situation very differently had it been a woman.
While the workplace hasn’t changed for working mothers (whether they work remotely or from an office), COVID-19 has more greatly affected working mothers. With women spending three times as many hours in unpaid domestic work, women are the first to take pay-cuts and limit their working hours in order to manage the household.
This results in less women in the labor market and widens the gender gap both for opportunity and pay. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 recently reported that there is still a 31.4% global gender gap with a possibility to close in 99.5 years, with potentially “only” taking 54 years in Western Europe.
According to Forbes, more women in the workplace equals more company success. So it’s good business to keep women on board, and even better business to make sure your company is providing a conducive work environment to ensure that happens.
Openness and flexibility are key factors in creating engaging workplaces that encourage productivity, regardless of whether you work from home or the office. By being open about your situation, people are not only more likely to be open in return, but it provides a window into other people’s lives, creating empathy and perhaps in some cases, a deeper relationship with your colleagues.
While we’d all love to think we live in one of those perfectly staged stock photos, we don't, but fostering a culture of openness and support leads to engagement and, as the numbers show, higher performance.
With openness comes flexibility. Thanks to the trust that is established as a result of having open lines of communication, a flexible work environment is practically a given. Studies show that flexibility benefits working mothers as much as the employers themselves.
Even in a distributed workforce, where flexibility is a major benefit, colleagues and employers need to be mindful of schedules. It can be even more difficult to ‘turn off’ or be unavailable from home. A flexible work environment is more than choosing your working hours, but being in a space where you are not afraid to set boundaries and be open about what you can and cannot do.
For example, my own calendar is blocked off for time when I am picking and dropping off my children at school; colleagues as a result are mindful of not scheduling calls at these hours, nor do I feel the pressure to be available at these times. Allowing me to be fully present for my work when needed, as well as my children.
“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.“ Michelle Obama
Back in March I wrote for our parent company, Kambr about the importance of building a diverse business culture. With women being at the forefront of discussions over the last year, with #MeToo, TimesUp, and pink pussyhats, you would think things have changed, but even with all the noise, the numbers remain the same.
And now, with the uncertainty of COVID and how it will affect families, it’s women who will bear the brunt. Although the needle has moved in favor of working mothers, there is still a lot of progress to be made, and we all must continue to be harbingers of that change.