The Pandemic’s Particular Challenge For Working Moms

Woman working

Tami Forman of Path Forward on how workplaces and families can stop Covid-19 from setting women back

It’s no secret that the pandemic has been incredibly damaging to the workforce — and particularly devastating to women. News outlets have gone as far as calling women’s current economic woes a “She-cession.”

But why? Tami Forman of Path Forward, a nonprofit org that helps women enter the workplace after taking a break from caregiving, has some answers. She weighs in on workplace trends she sees unfolding, offers advice to families (especially working moms), trying to find balance right now months into a pandemic, and more.

Wake-Up Call: In terms of the Path Forward’s work, what types of challenges do caregivers face when they’re trying to get back into the workforce?

There’s a lot of discrimination against moms in general, and specific discrimination against people who take time off for caregiving, versus just being out of the workforce for other reasons. Intellectually, we know that people can have a great family life and still be great employees. But managers feel very reluctant to take a risk when it comes to hiring.

Then, internally, women who have been out of the workforce for a long time tend to wonder: Do I know what I need to know? Do I still have what it takes? Am I going to be able to still be the mom?

Now with the pandemic, what types of challenges are women who have kids facing when it comes to balancing work and home life?

We’re seeing an overall ratcheting up of domestic labor at the same time that we’re seeing, for most families, a lack of ability to outsource any part of that labor. We are seeing some research that suggests that men are helping out more, but it’s a mixed bag.

What we’re anticipating is an additional need for support of people trying to reenter the workforce who are potentially leaving now. I think we are seeing women, particularly, finding themselves needing to take time off, or maybe even leave their jobs altogether. And as we head into the fall, it’s looking very likely that a lot of schools will be open. But there will probably be some distance learning throughout the week. So I think you’re going to see through the fall, women taking those leaves.

What do you think needs to change about our systems to make them work better for women right now? It seems tragic that many are having to leave their jobs.

I’m mystified that more companies don’t offer onsite daycare. But that’s not going to be a solution right now due to the circumstances. Companies are waking up as to how many of their employees are working parents, and how much their ability to function as a business, is dependent on the childcare industry. There’s a reason why President Trump is all-caps tweeting to open the schools. It’s because he knows that the economy doesn’t work if kids have nowhere to go during the day.

I think you’ll see accommodations happening in the fall, but I don’t know that they will be applied equitably. At more innovative companies, you’ll HR make sure flexibility policies aren’t up to the whim of managers.

I would encourage people now to keep yourself in the workplace if you can. It’s worth it. And also, ask your partner or whatever, if you have one, to also renegotiate their corporate relationship. If men start asking for accommodations in order to be able to help out, because we’re in a pandemic, I think that would help change how companies think about what that accommodation looks like.

In some jobs, people have the privilege of being able to work from home. What needs to happen for essential workers, or people with other jobs that require coming in-person?

New York City has been offering childcare for essential workers. That’s something happening in some places, not all places. I’m a little more worried about private sector low-income workers. They are also far less likely to have the means to bring in a nanny or hire a tutor to do the homeschooling and those kinds of things. I do think governments are probably going to need to step up, particularly for essential workers.

Do you have any advice for people right now who are struggling to balance housework and other responsibilities?

When people come into our program, we help them think about how they rebalance their life coming back into the workforce. We’re all in a very extreme situation right now, but I think some of the things we talk about are helpful.

I always recommend taking a more holistic view. We see this as a family project. I think the short term investment of whatever resources you can access for domestic labor, pays off in the long run in terms of financial security and income, down the road. I think people get stuck in roles, thinking certain things are non-negotiable. But if you do the math, you’ll go, hey you know what? I can save myself five hours a week and some sanity, by doing a meal service, or getting the laundry done.

I think that conversation with the family needs to include: What are things that don’t need to happen anymore or don’t need to happen in the short term? What are the things that have to happen and how can we divide this amongst us? If your kids are the right age, it’s the perfect time to have them step up around the house. The other thing I tell women is if there was ever a time to lower your standards, to let go of perfect, this is it.

This originally appeared on Medium.