School districts around the country are currently exploring how to approach education this fall, a decision-making process that is fraught with uncertainty. What is certain, however, is that the U.S. is facing a major childcare crisis.
While some workplaces are reopening in phases in the coming weeks and months, many schools are considering adopting a hybrid in-person/virtual model, or cancelling in-person classes altogether until 2021. That leaves working parents in the lurch.
See also: Childcare assistance during COVID
“The childcare crisis cannot be understated,” says Allison Robinson, CEO and founder of the Mom Project, which connects working moms to employment opportunities and community, as well as works with employers to advance their parent-friendly policies. After schools went remote in March, Robinson says, working parents were suddenly left to manage childcare, education, household chores and more, all while holding down their own 9-to-5—and much of that burden has fallen on mothers, she says.
Most moms are only getting 2.6 hours of uninterrupted work time each day, Robinson says.
“The lines between work and family have blurred,” she says. “Moms are facing these impossible demands and, because of that, this socio-emotional crisis where they feel like they’re not able to do any of it well.”
It’s a challenge that could prompt a significant number of women to leave the workforce.
In a survey of 1,000 working moms conducted earlier this month, the Mom Project found that a staggering 70% would consider leaving their job if it was economically feasible. That meshes with the results of another survey this month by parenting benefits platform Cleo, which reported that 27% of working parents are planning to leave the workforce because of the strain of the pandemic, up significantly from the 6% of respondents who intended to leave their positions in April.
Given the current economic conditions and widespread layoffs, many are too fearful to acknowledge the challenges they’re facing or to ask their employer for help, Robinson says.
Related: Depression among working women
Organizations must make themselves acutely aware of the needs of their employees, Robinson says, to keep those women from walking out the door.
“A company needs to understand what it will take to keep an individual in the workforce and, from there, drive forward solutions that will help support the employee population,” she says.
While the pandemic has created unprecedented pressures for working moms, it’s also opened up frank conversations about work/life balance. That shift has evoked a greater level of compassion from business leaders, which Robinson says is a rare silver lining of the health crisis.
“For so long, so many women felt like they couldn’t talk about childcare issues, and this pandemic has really humanized the whole issue,” she says. “It’s put people into focus.”
Employer action must be “bold,” to counteract the conditions many working moms are facing, Robinson notes. For instance, Twitter recently launched a virtual day camp for the kids of its employees, while some are expanding PTO to help employees with childcare needs and others are embracing on-site childcare—a trend that is only available at about 2% of employers but that can reap impressive results, such as Patagonia’s near-100% retention rate.
The Mom Project itself has also innovated during this time, with its own childcare-concierge service called Standby now in beta testing.
“If parents lose childcare, that’s a huge cognitive load for them to bear, so they can outsource that type of work through the Mom Project,” Robinson explains. Both she and a teammate experimented with the product themselves and were able to find new childcare arrangements within 48 hours that allowed them to resume their full-time work schedules.
“It’s a tangible way that companies can alleviate some of that socio-emotional burden for working moms,” she says.
Perhaps the most effective way to do that, however, is through sustained flexibility.
The Mom Project is encouraging employers to undertake structural work shifts—such as four-day work weeks—particularly until a vaccine becomes available that will allow for widespread resumption of in-person work and school. And, if non-traditional set-ups are successful, organizations should consider retaining them after the pandemic subsides.
“Companies should be taking this moment to really reflect on how they can accelerate a remote workforce,” Robinson says, “because that is what’s really going to help build a more diverse and inclusive workforce and open up the [talent] landscape.”