Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion is now widely seen as a vital part of any organisational corporate responsibility. Yet it seems change is painfully slow, especially for women.
The pandemic has increased the strain on many working women. A recent report (2020) by McKinsey & Company highlighted that ‘One in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to Covid-19’.
There are many reasons outlined in the report why women are contemplating career and lifestyle changes:
Anxiety over layoffs or furloughs
Childcare and/or home-schooling responsibilities
The physical and mental health of loved ones
The report emphasises the continued and increased demands expected of women by society and of themselves.
This blog post aims to address what organisations can do to assist and support women wanting to remain in the corporate world, but also how women can start to help their organisations support them as working mums.
This is a personal feature, as I was once a corporate working mum, and to be honest, I made a lot of mistakes in how I dealt with corporate life. During that time, I considered myself a hard-working employee and it was important to me to be successful.
Success seemed, at the time, meant working late into the night, attempting to cover 50 hours of work into 4 days while still being present for my three children under the age of 10, attending parent evenings, school fairs, being home for bath and bedtime, and organising extra curriculum activities. After exiting the corporate world, I can look back in hindsight on what actions I could have taken to effectively manage my employers and myself better.
A cherish moment with my beautiful children
My exit from the corporate world was not sudden, it was a long time coming and there were signs of disharmony along the way. Some of the challenges I faced are not unusual for many women in the workforce, and oddly it seems high-paying jobs are more rigid in expectations on what is considered a good employee.
Challenge 1: Homogeneous working hours
We could say things have moved on and companies are more open to flexible working hours. In 2019, 8.9 million individuals were working part-time (Statista.com, 2020). However, is working part-time hours a good indication of a company looking to support women employees?
If you have ever experienced working part-time as a senior corporate working mum, you will know that part-time can often equate to trying to keep visible and aligned with your full-time colleagues, while juggling meetings around school drop off or pick up times, feeling guilty for either stepping away from work or not spending enough time with the kids.
Many companies struggle to think differently about working days and hours, as it means changing payroll systems or squeezing employees into their neatly defined categories of Full Time or Part Time.
The pandemic has forced many organisations to relinquish their ability to manage the clock in and clock out protocols however, they still demand their employees to work continuously in blocks of hours such as 9-5, 8-4, 10-2 etc. Rather than trusting their employees to determine how best to allocate and manage their time and tasks.
I recall a conversation I had with a senior manager, demanding I stick to the same working days every week so my junior team feels secure in the knowledge they know when I will be working. I attempted to challenge this by explaining that I needed to manage personal, and work demands, and my calendar will remain visible to my team and my attendance at client meetings will be a priority. The response I got was, ‘we don’t do that here and it won’t work.’
Challenge 2: Poor support on return from maternity
A study by MMR in 2018, highlighted many women feel unsupported when returning to work after maternity. The survey revealed 90% of women in managerial position believed they had no formal transition into work after a maternity break.
The decision to have children and take a career break is often not an easy decision for many women. Many women worry about the impact on their careers and their ability to juggle motherhood and the demands of the corporate world. Unfortunately, many organisations fail to understand that the adjustment for many women is hard and overwhelming.
It is not as simple as leaving little Jimmy at home while you work and switch off from home responsibilities until you return home.
The demands of parenting, especially when the child is in its infancy means limited sleep, constant worrying about the welfare and health of your child, planning, and organising childcare resources while attending to client or management demands at work.
Some may say, motherhood is a choice and that working is a choice however, women are encouraged and even cheered when they have a family. There is also the belief there are allowances and support for working families, but upon closer inspection this is not the case. If either you or your partner has an income of more than £50,000 a year before tax, then you do not receive child benefits in the UK.
The increasing expense of living in the UK is driving the trend for two-income households, the average household with a mortgage spends £3,197 per month note this does not include childcare (Nimble Fins, 2021). The expense of childcare has dramatically increased per child you can expect to pay between £552 - £720 per month for 25 hours of nursery care. At Primary school age, parents must arrange for after school care if they are to work past 3pm, childcare need to be arranged and these costs. In 2019, it was reported that parents can expect to pay up to £2,000 for after school provisions per child (Out of School, out of pocket report).
Credit: NimbleFins 2020 Average Monthly Budget
Credit: gkp 2019
Out of School, Out of Pocket.
So parenting is expensive and so is living in the UK. Many women feel the pressure to contribute to the household as rightly so many have worked hard to climb the corporate ladder; so the choice to quit is not easy.
What about getting help from partners in the traditional male and female parenting scenarios? The pandemic has shown even when men are on hand or close by often the childcare responsibility still falls onto Mum.
A recent study by De Montford University found that 75% of women ‘were responsible for coordinating and organising children’s activities, compared to just 18% of men’.
Unfortunately, insights such as these are reflected in the results by McKinsey, 2020 (Women in the workplace survey).
Mothers, especially those with younger children, are most likely to consider leaving corporate work entirely. Implications are huge for the economy and the livelihood of households across the nation. The knock-on effects, such as increased wealth gap, will cause greater long-term issues for society.
Challenge 3: lack of creative work and role choice
Many organisations like to boast about their career progression opportunities in the workplace. Long service is often rewarded rather than project success, skill, and experience.
As a result, many women fear a long absence for childbirth is detrimental for their careers, so they either rush back in fear of being passed over for promotion or return taking whatever role is given to them. Rigid senior management positions are calved out for those who are visible, vocal, and aggressive in their agenda to climb. Credit: Gettyimages
As a result, organisations reward confidence over cognition or skills.
With the growing need for hybrid work (a blend of working remote & office environments) due to the current pandemic, there is an argument for changing the structure of how teams in organisations operate. Traditionally, organisations prefer department-based models, whereby teams work in functions (i.e., IT, Marketing, Finance, HR, Sales); these are often rigid and hierarchical structures and reinforces stereotypes about what makes a good employee.
What about a project-based approach that looks to bring together the skills needed for a project and rewards employees based on their experience and strengths and how well they deliver outcomes?
For a working mum, working in a team that rewards them for their skill and experience rather than hours spent at their desk could be more appealing.
There are many more ways to rethink roles within companies that can be supportive to all employees, not just working mums, such as compressed hours, annualised contracts, self-management, or job shares should be considered.
What can employers do better?
Employers need to address each employee as an individual, not a payroll number; by offering flexible and agile working hours it means letting employees determine how and when they will schedule their working day. Many companies engage in micro-managing, born out of fear that their employees cannot be trusted to be productive.
The pandemic has proved this to be untrue,
with productivity rates increasing during the pandemic.
Managers and organizations must consider creative and innovative means to adjust to the new demands of the working life of career mums and avoid the assumption that part-time equates to flexibility. Flexibility means working in alignment with your employee's needs and enabling them to work efficiently within a rewarding working environment.
In your next employee survey ask, ‘what can we do to make your work life better?’ By taking action on top 5 most common issues, you may be surprised and rewarded with dedicated and loyal employees.
With regards to return to work mums, aside from having a return-to-work program, consider gradual integration into the workplace. Work with each individual to formulate a schedule of reintegration. Each employee is different and will have their own requirements, then take steps to listen and ask what it is they want. Drawing up a contract or plan which suits their needs, which can also be adjusted as time moves on and when they are comfortable.
Again, all that is required is an empathetic approach, avoid a one size fits all. Be patient, organisations that look after their employees are more likely to retain and save £30k per new recruitment costs (Employee Benefits, 2019).
What the employee can do to help themselves:
Being the first mover or gamechanger is often scary, so many women fear asking for changes to their hourly contract or working day, which they believe may constitute as their inability to do their work. When in fact, if you are clear about your needs to perform at your best, you help your employer cater to your needs and you reward them with your energy and focus.
So, ask yourself ‘what do I need to make my working day more efficient, to cater for my personal and work demands?’
If I took these steps and actions, would I still be in my corporate job? Maybe; however, I could also proudly say that my experience in the corporate world has been invaluable in helping me to start my own business and help others seeking what’s next for their career or life choices.
Kemi Fadero is a Wellbeing Consultant, Counsellor and Coach based in Cambridge, UK. Kemi works with individuals seeking to achieve balance in their lives. Her interest in wellbeing and coaching came after taking steps herself to improve her wellbeing and reduce the strain of juggling life as a corporate executive and running a household filled with three lively children. She noticed the increased demands of modern life on herself, her family, colleagues and friends. She decided to seek balance for herself and in the process found a love for helping others through Counselling, and her passion for holistic wellbeing. From her Cambridge, UK studio, she offers coaching and counselling services,
helping individuals seeking to overcome
emotional distress and wellbeing challenges.
De Mont University
Mckinsey and Company
Money Advice Service
Out of School, out of pocket
Wong. K., Chan, A.H. S., Ngan. S. C. The Effect of Long Working Hours and Overtime on Occupational Health: A Meta-Analysis of Evidence from 1998 to 2018. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Jun; 16(12): 2102.