The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day was #ChooseToChallenge. To forge a gender-equal world, we all need to challenge gender bias and inequality wherever we see them, including the workplace.
Before COVID-19, that might have meant interacting with colleagues at the office differently or supporting corporate initiatives like women in tech. But since COVID-19, work and home have been happening in the same place. To challenge gender inequality at work also means addressing it in the home.
As part of the launch event for Back to Best for Parents, I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion last month devoted to just this issue. It turned out to be one of the most candid panel discussions of my career. Out of the nearly 300 attendees (90% of whom were working parents), we heard again and again that they are exhausted, overwhelmed, lonely, and grieving for the loss of their pre-pandemic lives.
We’ve seen it in the recent article “Primal Scream” in The New York Times: working parents — mothers in particular — are in crisis. My fellow panelists and I, all mothers ourselves, found ourselves trading war stories of the past 11 months.
Our discussion was in the spirit of the times when work and life are all mashed together. Nobody checked any part of themselves at the door. Listening to the questions from the attendees and the answers from the panel felt more like a late-night discussion among friends. But the friends in this case also happened to be on my shortlist of trailblazing women in business. At the event were fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff; Katya Libin, founder of Hey Mama; Joan Nguyen, founder of BumoBrain; and Blessing Adesiyan, founder of Mother Honestly.
The Back to Best for Parents program provides special offers, resources, and content to make life easier for parents trying to juggle it all in the tough times of COVID-19. We’ve launched in cooperation with the Female Founder Collective because we realize that working parents are facing unprecedented pressures and companies need to do more to help.
To kick off this incredible partnership, our panel talked about all things parenting, working from home, and juggling it all. I found myself taking notes just so I could incorporate these solutions into my own life. Here are some of my favorite gems from the conversation.
Plan for Fun
One of the complaints of working moms is that they never get a moment to rest their minds from the work of planning and coordination, even at the end of a long workday. So suggesting a bit more planning might seem counterintuitive. But setting aside time each night for a specific activity, like arts and crafts, letter writing, or game night, and letting the whole family know in advance does two things. It gives the kids — and grown-ups — something to look forward to.
Adeysian shared, “As my 11-year-old said, it was like an Advent calendar that extended into January.” One other effect of planning for fun? It gives the kids a sense of structure and predictability, which can counteract any anxiety they might be feeling in these unpredictable times. We might be spending all our time together, but that doesn’t always mean it’s quality time.
Give Some of Your Time to Others
How can making even less time for yourself have a positive impact? Because it can boost what Libin called “ROE” or return on energy. We spend 15 minutes chasing down a toddler so they can put on their shoes or take their medicine, and we might feel drained. We spend time giving career advice to another working parent who might need it, and we can feel restored.
As Libin said, “In these times where many of us can feel isolated or absorbed in our own struggles, we can take the time, whether it’s five minutes or 30, to share our expertise and give back. What we’ve seen from the community at HeyMama is that it leaves people feeling renewed and connected.”
Go Easy on Yourself
This was the note the whole panel ended on and it seemed like the point everybody had been trying to get to. When we say Back to Best, we have to acknowledge that best means something different for every parent. But there is one thing it doesn’t mean for any parent, and that’s perfect. It was a relief to hear, even from such an accomplished panel, that there are days when they don’t feel like they’re getting anything right. Especially for moms, it’s common to feel like you’re not getting work right because you’re thinking about your kids and you’re not getting parenting right because you’re thinking about work.
As an alternative to worrying, the whole panel offered up this advice: Focus on what you can do and stop wasting time and energy thinking of everything you should do. Allow yourself to be imperfect. “Give yourself some grace,” is the way Adesiyan phrased it. After she spoke, you could feel everybody on the video chat exhale.
If we’re going to enlist the help of companies in the struggles of working parents, the first thing we’ve got to encourage is a new mindset, one in which we extend some grace to one another because we see the bigger picture. We’ve got to stop thinking of employees as assets and think of the whole employee and their whole experience of work and life together.
The demographics of the attendees were a window into just how widespread the struggles of working parents are. Of the event attendees, most had about two children. They came from 30 different industries and 75 different cities in at least three countries, and 86% of them said their responsibilities had increased because of COVID-19. The struggle of working parents during a pandemic is real, but so is the opportunity for everybody — from working parents to their employers — to take action.
The pieces of advice here are just the tip of the iceberg. For parents, they are small steps toward feeling safer and more engaged. For leaders who share this advice with the teams, it’s a step toward smarter, more resilient business environments.
To learn more about how you can improve your own experience as a working parent or how to help working parents you know or employ, visit the Back to Best for Parents website.
April Crichlow is global vice president and head of Marketing for SAP SuccessFactors.