This Monday is International Women’s Day and social media will be awash with posts showcasing amazing women and talking about how important this day is.

Whilst IWD is an important date in the calendar, the other 364 days of the year also need to live up to the good intentions of this day. As you participate in the social media frenzy, sharing posts, attending virtual events, reading and tweeting, ask yourself whether you are doing enough as a leader and an organisation to support working mothers.

IWD is not a one day event but a long term commitment and process of supporting women. #NotJustOneDay

With working mothers more likely to be furloughed, made redundant, have their pay reduced, lose their jobs and experience a long term negative impact on career progression as a result of the pandemic there is much that can be done in this space.

“Working mothers have always worked a “double shift”—a full day of work, followed by hours spent caring for children and doing household labour. Now the supports that made this even possible for women—including school and childcare—have been upended.” [1]. The Covid-19 crisis could erase all the gains we’ve made

Companies risk losing women at all levels of management—but they also have an opportunity to build a better workplace. This is what working mothers we coach are telling us they need and what many of the organisations supporting them are providing. Of course this should not be restricted to working mothers as many working fathers and other women and men are facing the same challenges.

  • Stop focusing on hours of operation. Does it matter when the work gets done as long as the output is good and is delivered by the deadline?
  • Provide flexibility and support. Flexible work schedules, four day weeks without a reduction in pay, increased time off and contribution to childcare costs are all being provided by some employers. Shout these policies from the rooftops so that working mothers know it is ok to accept these and it won’t impact on their jobs and future prospects.
  • Be deliberate about expectations on working hours. The unwritten rules about always being on and available need to be modified and they need be written down. This will help working mothers create a boundary between work and home and take time out without anxiety about the consequences. Look at ways to re-establish work-life boundaries. Meeting holidays on certain days or half days, rules around breaks in between meetings so that they are not back to back all day, policies on email outside of business hours and improving communication about work hours are a good start.
  • Do not ignore the child in the room. Acknowledge they are there and engage with them if they are amenable. When work colleagues notice, connect and even chat with our children, it helps build trust and reduces anxiety. Working mothers need to be seen as their whole self and not just their work persona to give them permission to show what they are working and living with.
  • With remote working the norm there is a greater need to communicate both within a team and for the whole organisation. Working mothers rarely feel comfortable sharing the challenges they are facing. Line managers should set up regular communication with them to specifically and directly address the difficulties with the work and recalibrate. This needs to be shared with the team to prevent the perception that one of their team members is not pulling their weight and avoid resentment from arising
  • Adjust performance review criteria, productivity expectations and goals to take account of working mothers extra responsibilities and time constraints. Are they realistic? Working parents shouldn’t have to choose between not meeting expectations set for a pandemic free world and pushing themselves to keep up an unsustainable pace that leads to burnout.

This quote of the lived experience of one mother of two children from McKinseys’ Women in the Workplace 2020 report sums it up:

“I feel like I am failing at everything. I’m failing at work. I’m failing at my duties as a mom. I’m failing in every single way, because I think what we’re being asked to do is nearly impossible. How can you continue to perform at the same level as in the office when you had no distractions, plus being asked to basically become a teacher for kids and everything else with online learning? I’m doing it all, but at the same time I’m feeling like I’m not doing any of it very well. I also worry that my performance is being judged because I’m caring for my children. If I step away from my virtual desk and I miss a call, are they going to wonder where I am? I feel that I need to always be on and ready to respond instantly to whatever comes in. And if that’s not happening, then that’s going to reflect poorly on my performance.”

Next week we will be posting about some of the incredible women we work with but we will also be pushing for every day to be International Women’s Day not just the 8th of March. #NotJustOneDay