It’s been 100 years since the passing of the 19th amendment. We’ve come a long way. Today, half of all eligible voters are women. What’s more, women now make up the majority of the workforce according to the BLS (50.04% as of December 2019, excluding farm workers and the self-employed). And while the pay gap is still, well, a gap (which is unacceptable IMO), it has closed considerably. Women can vote, hold office, run fortune 100 companies, and even run for President and Vice President of the United States, all while still being expected to care for the children and their home. While it’s safe to say we have evolved in 100 years, on this centennial celebration, it’s important to remember not only how far we still have to go but also how much responsibility we have as (male or female) leaders of our businesses to invoke change.
One gender is still wearing the traditional hat.
Today more burden than ever is falling on the American woman. While there has been progress and liberties have been “awarded” since 1920, some less tangible barriers have remained. Not least of which is the reality that we still have an implied traditional behavior that expects women to care for the family and the home (I need not remind you that this labor remains unpaid.) And in the last several decades, we have also come to expect women to carry half the financial burden as well (I need not remind you for less compensation).
COVID has simply created an unfair playing field.
With school closures amid COVID-19, and few options for support, a heavy burden has fallen on parents, and particularly mothers. According to a recent survey conducted by the NY Times, 80% of parents who are both working remotely during the pandemic will also be handling child care and education. While both parents will be home to help theoretically, we can anticipate an unequal share of “home-work.” The same survey showed that 54% of women said they’d be mostly responsible for educating their children on weekdays. 29% of men said they would be responsible— however, only 2% of women said their partners would be. The reality is the moms are doing it.
It’s time to shatter the illusion. The delusion rather. The idiosyncratic belief embedded in our current system that women can work, make the same amount of money, have children, and care for home life without a partner or hired help. We have placed double the responsibility, if not more, on mothers and left them to bear the weight of these responsibilities without awareness and support from our organizations.
It is our responsibility as leaders to recognize this discrepancy and take measures to acknowledge and rectify it. The following are suggestions for places to start to build a more level foundation that supports your people, and particularly your female employees:
Have Perspective. Know your demographics. Know your employees. How many of your workers have children? What percentage of your workforce are managing families (male and female)? Gather the data. Take time every day to understand your organization. To get to know your people better. Perspective is a huge responsibility if you care about your culture. If you see your employees as more than just robots, they will care about you in return. They will be loyal. They will make the extra effort to meet deadlines.
Check-in with every employee.Randomly and independently. Know what kind of home pressure exists by creating an atmosphere where people can be open about their challenges. Acknowledgment is powerful. Asking how people are and really listening is more meaningful and goes a lot further than the water cooler. An employee remarked to me recently, “I just need no one to depend on me for a couple days so I can breathe.” She later told me just being able to say that out loud helped. Hold space for your employees. Sometimes sacrificing productivity to acknowledge that people are struggling is the most productive thing you can do.
Compensate with time, allowance, and patience. Pay must be balanced and we need to find other ways to support women in the workplace. Offer benefits for self-care that go beyond a health insurance plan.
Make childcare benefits standard in your organization
Make counselors available AND accessible
Pay for education. Now is a great time to encourage two months of education to advance career
Offer paid leave to mothers for the start of the school year
We have made significant strides since 1920, but we are nowhere near where we need to be. The employer plays a significant role in social awareness and action, and leaders will recognize this as an opportunity. To create balance, you need to create attention to imbalance. Think about this as you lead your company. Much like the Black Lives Matter movement, the pendulum needs to swing hard to correct the wrong.