What do you do when things can’t be equal? This is a question many dual-income households are currently grappling with.
In my own household, which has been built on equality–both my husband and I are senior leaders within our respective companies–this question is hitting me particularly hard. The amount of anxiety, uncertainty, and plans going into the next school year seems to have disproportionately hit moms. Indeed, research shows in dual-income households, women shoulder more of these household burdens. Anecdotal evidence from my mom groups, group chats, and emails that have circulated further this thesis: as working men continue business as usual, women everywhere are trying to figure out what the heck we’re going to do when the school year starts.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom has just announced a virtual start to the year. And with COVID-19 cases across most of the country increasing, we are all bracing for a year where parents will be called upon to be the primary educator and facilitator of distance learning. And when I say parents, I mean mothers. Working mothers in particular who have already battled the emotional toll of returning to work after maternity leaves, pumping on conference calls, finding ways to FedEx breast milk to babies while on work trips and countless microaggressions that keep us in secondary positions in the workplace will be left disadvantaged yet again.
To be clear, I’m not just talking about professional, white-collar women either. Data shows this is impacting women across the entire spectrum. A recent study shows a disproportionate number of female hourly workers cite childcare as their main barrier to going back to work right now.
But what are the solutions? Flexible work arrangements? We’ve tried that for months. We’re exhausted and burnt out. We’ve blocked our calendars, worked into the night or woken up early, we’ve done it all in the name of ‘making it work.’ The harsh reality is even with the most flexible work schedules, it will not solve the fundamental issue here—we cannot be called upon to give it our all at work all while being childcare providers, nurturers, cooks, and educators to our own children simultaneously. Even as expert jugglers, at some point there are simply too many balls in the air to manage.
I want to tie this all up in a bow, to provide some uplifting message or idea that will solve our 2020-2021 school year problems, but it doesn’t seem possible. The number of women that will either elect or be forced to leave the workforce, or need to ask for part-time time arrangements will set back an entire generation of women who have been trying desperately to break the glass ceiling for decades.
So what can we do? First, I’d like to go back to the initial point that this will disproportionately impact mothers. Male colleagues, do me a favor, don’t just outsource this task to your wife, get involved, and help advocate for your female colleagues. For example, employers could consider offering more job-sharing arrangements for moms, or policymakers could create paid “education leave” similar to maternity leave to let parents take time off away from the office to focus on schooling.
A mom can dream for creative solutions, but given how little our own President seem to care about this issue, I implore colleagues who do not have children to step up, ask your coworkers who are parents how you can help take some of their workload, so they can stay in the workforce. Otherwise, all of these years of fighting for equality will be wiped away in a matter of months.