Managers: Make Work Easier for Working Mothers

Everyone feels the pressure right now. Many managers feel pressure to deliver more and better products and services. That pressure rolls downhill to the people doing the work.

And, the people doing the work, especially if they're parents? Well, they clearly made the wrong choice to bring children into the world in the last eight years. Otherwise, they wouldn't be in such trouble now.

(Yes, that's sarcastic.)

If you have not yet read Working Moms Bear Brunt of Home Schooling While Working During COVID-19, I urge you to do so.

Mothers, not fathers, were 53% more likely to step back from working during the pandemic. I don't have data about women who were fired because they care for young children. I bet it's a significant number.

Managers, listen up. Let me do a little woman-splaining to you. People who take primary care child care responsibilities during the pandemic exhibit these qualities and characteristics:

  • They are the most adaptable to change. They recognize when change occurs.
  • They are the most resilient to change. They find a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, Plan E, and so on.
  • They are the most innovative because they have to be.
  • They are good at fast switching because their children have many needs during the day.
  • They have learned (at least a little) how to explain things so others can learn.

Working parents who take primary child care responsibilities excel at delivering in trying circumstances.

Why would you not support these people?

I hope it's not because they are women. If so, you don't understand how to optimize for remote work. You don't understand how effective these women can be.

Optimize for Remote Work

When teams create their hours of overlap, teams understand how to work together. Right now, teams might need 20- or 30-minute segments instead of hours.

If you understand spreadsheets, you can easily see how to divide a one-hour box into either 3 20-minute segments or 2 30-minute segments. Your team might even benefit from using 30-minute segments and creating Pomodoro's inside that 30 minutes.

How about “professionalism?” Can a working woman at home be professional?

I can't believe it's 2020 and people still ask this question.

Yes, you might see children (of all ages) in your Zooms. You might see a woman feeding an infant or a toddler—with the resulting rediscovery of gravity or the occasional spit-up. Or, a woman might go off-camera for the feeding times.

Is all this “aggravation” worth it?

You bet it is. In fact, you might be betting the survival of your company on it.

If you haven't yet read Anita Woolley's Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor…, you have no idea what you're missing if you exclude women. And, if you haven't read The mortality of companies, you might not realize how short a lifespan your company has—unless it can innovate.

Make life easier for your working parents, especially mothers. These women will remember how you treated them. Treat them well—they will be loyal.

Treat them badly? When the economy recovers, they will be young enough to start your next serious competitor and wipe the floor with you.

Managers, use the pressure you feel to create a better environment for all working parents. Don't fall prey to old, outdated thinking.

Support working parents, especially mothers. You need these people in your organization, now, more than ever.

3 Replies to “Managers: Make Work Easier for Working Mothers”

  1. Another sensible subject Johanna. I admit that 10 or 15 years ago I would have not thought about it. But now yes, maybe because I have a daughter. Maybe because I realized the honor I had when I was a little kid and my grandmother took me with her when she had to wash/clean the stairs in a flat , she was a full time employee but also had a part time job as a janitor.

    I witnessed so many times that when the kid is sick is the mother who is there near him/her, maybe because nothing compares with the warmth of the mother being there.

    Is 2020 and being a woman and mother is not easier at all. Take IT. For me, like doctors, the preparation must continue after the work. Ten years ago I heard the father of Romanian anesthesia saying that a doctor daily must read at least one hour if not more…is not easy….
    In my team I have 2 colleagues. They are both women in their 20s soon to get married. I told them that things will not get easier. I was telling them that because I wanted somehow to motivate them to learn more and to learn the important things. So in the future when they will give birth to the kid(s) and return to work not to be in a great depression with the work because they would have the real bases/pillars. This summer I also held a .NET training class and spoke about this aspect too. The idea is that I wanted to give them force/energy/motivation to learn as much as they can and the important things. To the boys in the class , for example, I told them: “If you’ll see her pregnant at that moment it is your moral duty to be sure she is ok, to cover up if needed. Don’t put pressure on her even if she has a 8 hour program. Is not easy for her to deal with 2 lives at the same time and all the stress can affect the baby ”

    I do not know if it was correct to mention this in class and to the colleagues. But I wanted so much for them to be motivated and not to concentrate on the appearances. And also to give them some insights of things which will come and to prepare in advance. Usually this is not a subject which is being treated at all. But I saw, at least in Romania, how hard it is to restart the work after giving birth to the baby. Not easy at all.

    1. Marius, I can only speak for myself. I didn’t need other people to take care of me when I was pregnant. (I didn’t take public transportation to work. If I had, I’m sure I would have appreciated a seat.) However, I needed a fair shake.

      32 years ago, when I had my first child, my boss said these words to me: “I only have to keep a job open. I don’t have to keep your job open. You might be the receptionist” To be honest, I don’t know what the law actually was then. I do remember my response: “You would ask me, your best manager or program manager to work as a receptionist? You would do that?” I laughed. Because, really. How stupid of him.

      When I returned to work after 3 months, I was pretty much recovered. I wanted to return to work. My perspective: I wanted to see I was not just a mother, but a whole person. (I am not saying my way is for everyone. My way was for me.)

      I returned to a promotion and more responsibility. I had earned it. I deserved it. Did I screw up at times? Oh, yes. Did I do my best and ask for feedback? Definitely yes.

      I want people to realize we all have interruptions from work. I gave birth to two children, which meant I have taken 6 months off for medical leave in a working life that spans 40 years. My husband had a torn Achilles tendon, which meant he took medical leave for a couple of weeks. (Good drugs and an inability to walk and drive, etc.) He has had minor aches and sprains that also prevented him from working here and there. He has probably taken a total of one month of medical leave over the past 40 years.

      We like to work.

      You can see the data about the US response to Covid-19. We are not doing well. We have not chosen what to open—for us, it seems to be all or nothing. Which is crazy. (That’s like saying all the projects in the project portfolio are the same rank. Or, all the features are #1.) I am not sure why we have not chosen school as the first thing to open and optimized for that.

      If we had, working parents could concentrate on their work for several hours a day. That would free the parents to contribute to work and not worry about their children. That, in turn, would allow companies to offer more/different products and services. That would boost the economy.

      Too many managers think the best way is to follow a direct line to where they want to go. However, our goals often require oblique ways of achieving them. (Kay wrote a great book, Obliquity.)

      When managers take the shortsighted view that everyone has to work the exact same hours, they shortchange everyone—and especially, their customers. (I wrote a little about this for hours of overlap in Three Predictions About the Future of Remote Work.)

      We have to innovate our way out of this mess, not retreat. That’s what I want.

      1. I love the book ‘Obliquity’ is so useful. The idea is that I am so glad that I understood(or at least resonated) when you wrote ‘Make Work Easier for Working Mothers’ and is so important,at least for me.

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