More than a year into shouldering the mounting effects of a global pandemic, moms in the workforce hoping to find celebratory spring flowers are instead in for bouquets of more bad news. From more than 2.3 million women dropping out of the labor force, to moms taking on a “double shift” of housework and caregiving alongside day jobs to keep families afloat, to predictions it will take decades to recover women’s lost wages from the pandemic (to say nothing of the generations now needed to get to pay equity), to outcomes that are even worse for Black women, research continues to paint a dire picture for working moms.
Companies, however, are in a position to deliver hopeful news to working moms, according to new Purple Strategies polling. Our latest research views that picture through the lens of corporate reputation. It investigates employee experiences of both parents and non-parents during the pandemic and the expectations workers have now for companies, and it points to ways businesses and leaders can be part of solutions to the challenges working moms face, helping all of their employees in the process.
What We See
Working through a global pandemic has been hard on all employees, but working moms have experienced certain negative impacts to a greater degree than others.
Working moms are experiencing less help and feeling less supported by their companies than dads are, despite the fact 7 in 10 moms report being the adult primarily responsible for their kids’ virtual learning.
- 39% of moms say their employer has done a lot to help accommodate their need to manage at-home learning or loss of childcare during the pandemic, compared with nearly half of dads (48%)
- Moms report at rates 6 to 7 points lower than dads being offered benefits by their employer as a parent trying to manage at-home learning during the pandemic, like additional paid time off, bonus/short-term payments to help with childcare, and providing a long-term childcare solution – benefits desired equally by moms and dads
- 54% of moms, compared with 68% of dads, feel like their company leadership is trying to accommodate what they are facing with childcare/family obligations during COVID-19
- 61% of moms, compared with 73% of dads, feel like their manager/supervisor is trying to accommodate what they are facing with childcare/family obligations during COVID-19
Working moms also say they have had to consider or take action on a range of steps as a result of work/life pressures brought on by the pandemic, at rates notably higher than non-parents.
- 35% of moms have reduced their work hours, compared with 13% of non-parents (an additional 29% of moms have considered it)
- 23% of moms have left their company/employer, compared with 13% of non-parents (an additional 27% of moms have considered it)
- 26% of moms have changed careers or jobs to one that would be easier to balance, compared with 10% of non-parents (an additional 25% of moms have considered it)
Non-parents might not be seeing the extent of some of the damage being done to working moms, and yet they are very supportive of what companies are doing to support parents right now.
The impacts of the pandemic on women’s careers might not be as visible to non-parents within their organizations as they are to those most affected. While about one-third of non-parents say that women in their organizations have left or taken on less challenging work assignments while they are trying to balance work and childcare, one-half of parents report seeing this within their own workplaces.
However, in terms of flexibility and benefits being offered to parents during this unprecedented time, non-parents’ views are supportive and right in line with those of parents.
- 7 in 10 employees (68% of non-parents, 70% of parents) agree that employers should play a significant role in helping their employees who are parents, accommodating their need to manage at-home learning or loss of childcare as a result of the pandemic
- 7 in 10 employees (69% of non-parents, 71% of parents) agree that employers who are offering more flexibility to working parents during COVID-19 are doing what is right for their employees and for society during this unprecedented time
What It Means
A company has meaningful opportunity in this moment to build a reputation as an employer of choice, not just for working moms but for all employees.
There’s a cautionary narrative that is sometimes presented in employee engagement that says supporting one group of employees too much can alienate another group, and vice versa; this played out in a different way in this research.
When asked to consider how their employer’s handling of their personal work situation during the pandemic would impact their likelihood of taking certain actions – like continuing to work with that employer, recommending the company to others, speaking on the employer’s behalf if it were criticized or under pressure, or rating the company’s reputation favorably – parents’ experiences with their employers made them more likely to take these actions than non-parents. But there was no opposite reaction for non-parents – no meaningful difference between parents and non-parents reporting they were less likely to take those actions. The attention shown to the unique work situations of parents had a positive impact on key employee engagement numbers for those employees, without harming those measures for non-parents.
Similarly, the data shows that what companies are doing right now to support and retain women during this time has a distinctly positive impact on the willingness of parents (66%) and non-parents (56%) alike to work at, buy from or do business with that company (with no meaningful difference between the groups to the opposite effect).
What Companies Can Do About It
To leverage these insights, companies could consider three areas of focused action:
(1) Ensure empathy is front and center in your planning for parents and non-parents alike.
When Purple gathered with 50+ CEOs from across industries recently to reflect on learnings they will take into the era beyond COVID, one that stood out was their belief that we’re entering a new era of empathy. Your employees have all been through hell, with moms’ version tending to burn a bit hotter than others. Given a list of words to describe how they’ve been feeling during the pandemic, non-parents’ and working moms’ “top five” lists shared stressed, anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed – the one difference was bored for non-parents and burned out for moms. Listen to all employees’ needs, and then support them accordingly. Invest in mental health and well-being, set realistic performance expectations, and manage toward sustainable workloads.
(2) Maintain momentum on benefits for caregivers.
This new data shows that investments in these areas drive loyalty and advocacy of parents, with no downside among non-parents, so leverage this opportunity to help caregivers, differentiate from competitors, and build up your employment brand. The top five benefits parents in this survey cited as those that would be most helpful to them in balancing work and parenting responsibilities were a flexible work schedule (46%), additional paid time off (35%), bonus or short-term payments to help with childcare (26%), assurance that having children present is not going to harm my career or professional image (26%), and providing access to short-term or drop-in childcare facilities (24%). Ask your employees, through surveys or conversations, what would be most helpful for them.
(3) Constantly counteract the forces taking women from your workforce and leadership pipeline.
The challenges around keeping women in the workforce and boardrooms during this time are one of the central issues corporate leaders are grappling with in this second year of COVID response. Across these groups in this research, 6 in 10 agree the disappearance of women from the workforce during COVID is a significant problem for the number of women in management and leadership now and in the years to come. Steps around empathy and caregiver support above are a great place to start as part of a broader commitment to maintain focus on these issues for the long term.
Source: Purple Pulse Survey of the US Informed Public. N=1,092. March 5-9, 2021.
Purple is actively partnering with companies and industries to navigate the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for the future that will come after, bringing deep experience helping the world’s best-known companies navigate the world’s toughest challenges. Please reach out to author Rebecca Ballard or any member of our Purple team to let us know how we can support you.
By Rebecca Ballard | Managing Director | firstname.lastname@example.org