Work life

The one thing working moms need above all else

As another grueling pandemic year draws to a close, we spoke with exhausted working moms to find out what they need most.
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· 5 min read

When Ruth Martin thinks back on balancing work and parenting in 2021, the moment she recalls involves her two daughters yelling at full volume, a guinea pig named Coco caught in a precarious predicament, and a Zoom classroom full of sixth graders watching it all unfold.

Martin, the senior vice president of MomsRising, was in a remote work meeting of her own when she heard laughter turn to commotion upstairs. At the onset of the pandemic, she had purchased a pair of guinea pigs for her daughters in a bid to keep their boredom at bay. Unfortunately, one daughter chose this moment to free the animal from its cage. It chewed a hole in her shirt, got stuck in the fabric, and now both girl and pig were squirming and screaming.

“I’m running upstairs—still on a work call—and my girls are panicking, and there’s a squealing guinea pig,” Martin laughed, remembering the scene. “I grab for a pair of scissors to, like, cut the guinea pig out of the hole—and my daughters are deeply concerned about my ability to perform this task without clipping the guinea pig, so I’m trying to reassure them that I’m capable—anyway, the guinea pig was fine, but in that moment I was like, Oh my God! This is too much! This should not be happening on a Monday morning!

As we close 2021, HR Brew heard from more than 20 working moms by phone and email about this tumultuous year to understand how the pandemic changed their relationship to work. Some moms quit their jobs in search of more flexible companies, others cashed in on benefits like unlimited PTO to keep their families functioning, and still others soldiered on as before and now look back, shell-shocked, unsure how they made it.

No matter what path moms took through 2021, looking forward, the one thing we heard from all moms was they craved flexibility so that when the next rodent rodeo takes the upstairs by storm, moms can address it, collect themselves, then come back to Zoom and ask, “What’d I miss?”

A year with some ups, but mostly downs. A quick walk down memory lane: January 2021 began on a “bleak” note according to Martin. Though vaccinations were beginning to roll out, most moms couldn’t see an end in sight. Schools were still generally closed and the cost of childcare had risen, according to a report by LendingTree, as much as 40% since the beginning of the pandemic. Women’s participation in the workforce was at a 33-year low, leading Vice President Kamala Harris to describe the situation as “a national emergency.”

If you were wondering if the moms were all right, the answer from everyone we spoke to was an empathetic no.

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Corinne Watson, director of content at Lunchbox Technologies, a tech firm that handles digital marketing for restaurants, described the start of the year as “one of the most difficult times” of her life.

The constant disruptions to childcare (and the ambiguity about its availability, once the next news cycle hit) made moms reconsider their work arrangements. Watson said when there was any Covid exposure at her daycare, the whole family needed to quarantine for 14 days—something she assured HR Brew was not easy to do with a two-year-old.

“Working with a toddler—it’s impossible. You can do it with an infant because they’ll sleep all day; you can do it with a kindergartner because you can put them in front of a TV, but with a toddler, they are very rambunctious and won’t listen to you,” Watson sighed. “We’ve done it twice.”

Flexible for all. Since the pandemic began, one in three women has considered downshifting her career or leaving the workforce—that’s up from one in four in 2020, according to the Women in the Workplace report from LeanIn and McKinsey & Company. In an effort to keep moms happy, some companies are trying to be as flexible as possible to make work work for them.

Chandra Sanders, director of RISE, a reskilling program at The Mom Project, told HR Brew that offering remote work options is the best way to engage moms.

“Flexibility is what has saved my mental health,” Sanders said. “It is what has saved me and my family. It is imperative. Honestly, if you want women, and if you want parents in the workforce, that flexibility is like the no. 1 need in order for us to balance and manage everything that’s going on.”

Search for remote roles has gone up 460% in two years, in part due to parents preferring remote work. The situation is even harder for mothers working in industries and roles that cannot be completed remotely. The moms we talked to still have ideas for how to support workers.

Austin–based Holland Eichorn, who works in public relations at Kickstand Communications, loves that her company offers a $500 monthly stipend for all parents.

“It’s amazing,” Eichorn gushed. “I had never heard of something like that before. And it’s to be used at our discretion. So for me, it’s for daycare, but let'’s say there’s one of those days that my kid has to be home, and I need a babysitter that day. Now, that doesn’t cut into my monthly budget.”

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Contact Susanna Vogel via the encrypted messaging app Telegram (@SusannaVogel) or simply email [email protected].

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.