All employees have seen sweeping changes over the last year and everyone is experiencing some degree of disruption.
But the impact of Covid-19 has not been evenly spread. It has hit people in different ways; while some are thriving and enjoying the benefits of remote working, many others are struggling.
One of the most striking imbalances is the impact on working mothers versus working fathers. A recent report for the World Economic Forum analysed data from 38 countries around the world. They found clear evidence that, although both genders have seen their unpaid workloads increase, women are bearing more of the burden than men. Are there any benefits of remote working for female employees? In this article, I will open some important questions for all working mothers out there.
A throwback to years gone by
A UK government advertising campaign urging people to “Stay Home, Save Lives” showed women working on laptops, home-schooling children and doing all the domestic chores, while the only man featured was chilling on the sofa. The ad was widely condemned for its stereotypical imagery – and quickly withdrawn. However, there’s an increasing amount of evidence emerging that the picture portrayed in the campaign is perhaps more true to life than many of us would like to admit.
Here are some highlights from the WEF report on who’s putting in the extra hours:
- The average woman now spends nearly the equivalent of a full-time job doing unpaid childcare – a full working day a week more than the average man.
- Nearly a third of women report spending more time cooking and serving meals, compared to just under a fifth of men. Half of all men say they don’t normally get involved in preparing food at all.
- Before the pandemic women spent an average of 26 hours a week looking after children, compared to 20 hours a week for men. That has now risen by 5.2 hours for women, and just 3.5 hours for men.
These figures help to explain some reports that many women are now feeling they have no choice but to downsize their careers, work part-time or even leave the workforce altogether. They have been put in an impossible situation during the pandemic. According to a UK survey published in January, more than seven in 10 women who applied for furlough after the latest school closures had their requests turned down and nine in 10 had experienced higher levels of anxiety and stress during the latest lockdown.
What can employers do?
Covid-19 presents an opportunity for a culture shift. If the unpaid workload was shared more equally, with more people working flexibly, we could unleash the full potential of women. There’s no easy answer because employees’ needs and experiences vary – but this is the time for business leaders to promote change and start finding out exactly how their employees are feeling and coping.
The first step is simply to recognise the challenges that unpaid care and domestic work put on employees. Many organisations responded well to address their employees’ health and safety needs during the initial phase of the pandemic. But, now is the time to shift the focus to a more nuanced approach that recognises differences among your teams.
Don’t wait until a scandal erupts and a national newspaper asks your staff to share their experiences. Have honest, two-way conversations with your teams, listen and analyse the feedback. Find out which employees need more support so you can tailor that support in meaningful ways. Given the constantly shifting landscape, business leaders need real-time insights to understand how their employees are feeling – only then can their approach to Employee Experience be tailored to the different needs of employees.