Working moms have undoubtedly been dealt an almost impossible hand with COVID-19. An already tough position—toggling between work and home—got 10 times harder as they were combined during quarantine. A recent headline in the New York Times declared “Pandemic Could Scar a Generation of Working Mothers”. That’s why we were so interested to learn more about a survey of over 500 working moms, done by human resources consultant Ali Caravella, a Stamford, CT-based mom of two young daughters who has spent 13 years in the field. We spoke to her about her survey, including the surprising results and implications.
Before we dive into your survey results, can you give us a bit of background on yourself?
I am a Stamford-based mom of two toddlers (Sophie and Luna) and a former Global Head of Human Resources and Human Capital consultant. I also am a certified coach and math geek and got my degree in Mathematics from Vanderbilt University. I recently resigned from Corporate America to follow my entrepreneurial passions and dedicate my working time to helping women and the companies who employ them. Through conversations with many senior executives and hundreds of high-performing, high-potential working mothers, I observed unprecedented trends putting individual’s careers and organizations’ stability at risk. I decided to kick-start my business by going straight to the source and collecting data from women themselves from multiple industries across the United States to ensure all advice, publications, and client work would be relevant, recent, and fact-based.
Were the results what you expected?
The findings were certainly in line what I had observed anecdotally, but the unwavering consistency of the results did surprise me. I reviewed the data after every 100 responses, and the trends (e.g. 75% switched to FT remote working, 25% likely to leave their job in the next 12 months, 45% without clarity on their role or responsibilities for 2020) were unchanged as the responses accumulated. I was impressed and moved by the level of vulnerability the women shared in their open-ended responses and also disappointed by the immense gaps that currently exist between employee’s basic needs and company’s current actions.
Ok, let’s talk about these results! Over 20 percent of women surveyed said they are taking a break from the workplace to care for children. Why is this so potentially damaging?
To clarify, one-fourth of the surveyed women reported that they are likely or very likely to leave their job by choice in the next 12 months. Of that group, 20% stated they would take a break from the workplace to care for their children. This has a clear impact to earning power and overall career earnings – multiple studies have shown between a $500k-$1M lifetime impact from women taking a 3-5 year break (reducing lifetime earnings by about 20%) when you factor in lost wages, retirement income, missed promotions, etc. The broader impacts to women in the workplace will be seen with stalled or slower progress getting women in senior leadership roles, closing the gender pay equity gaps, and having younger women opt out of certain roles and industries before even having kids so they can feel better positioned to wear dual hats in the future.
The biggest reduced wellness dimensions were: Social Life, Mental Health and Job security. What is the significance of this?
The biggest reduced dimensions were certainly in line with what I had been observing prior to running the study, but the biggest takeaway here for me is that women have more control than they may realize over many of the wellness dimensions. While they cannot necessarily predict or control upcoming layoffs or furloughs at their company, there are a variety of things that can be done to connect more with friends and family in creative ways, practice mindfulness to improve mental health, and deepen their support network and sense of community. I coach women on evaluating their holistic health and wellness and helping them build tactical action plans to improve aspects of their wellbeing within their control.
The three main stressors to moms were: Childcare/school, Lack of Normalcy, and Children’s Wellbeing. These generally fall to women to protect – both the practical scheduling of backup childcare, as well as the softer emotional labor of worrying about kids’ mental health. Is this what’s pushing women to either cut back or leave work? Or is it company’s not being empathetic to what it takes to retain moms?
Women are cutting back or leaving their roles out of pure necessity for their families and their mental health. It is less about the lack of normalcy and more about the childcare/school issue and general wellbeing of their children. As someone who was on 10 hours of back-to-back conference calls 5 days a week, I can deeply relate to the emotional pull and pain hearing your kids in the background and constantly shushing their asks for attention, help, or the 50th snack. Eventually, many women are realizing that working a traditional 9-5 job while caring for children (and now educating them!) full-time without help is logistically impossible and creates an emotional and mental stress load that is unhealthy and unsustainable. That said, I do strongly believe there are a variety of options companies can consider to retain a good portion of these women.
If companies want to retain moms, what do they need to do—ASAP and in the long term?
First things first, companies need to decide how important engagement, retention, and culture are to their corporate success and then communicate, communicate, communicate with a solid change management plan. They need to quickly design customized yet scalable HR solutions so managers can assess the workload and wellbeing of their employees. Also, employees need to have a structured and safe way to explain their work/life situation and ask for help or a customized plan if needed without the fear of judgement, discrimination, or job loss. Managers need to be trained (and re-trained) on remote management, empathy, and inclusion, so employees feel authentic connection and care from their leaders. More than anything, working mothers want to feel that their companies are aware of the issues, acknowledge the challenges, and are actively assessing solutions to help the employee population.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I am a huge advocate for women and women’s careers, but I encourage companies not to just think about this as a short-term retention issue. The most successful and celebrated companies will learn how to support women while they prioritize their most critical and urgent needs. For some, this may be homeschooling their children full or part-time. For others, it may be caring for a sick or elderly family member. Regardless of the choice, companies need to acknowledge there is no longer a one-size-fits-all HR solution, and authentic empathy, customization, and creative sabbatical and re-entry programs are going to differentiate the winners and losers.
To learn more about Ali’s Intersection Coaching, including her one-on-one and group coaching programs as well as management consulting for organizations, click here. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.