I know I speak for many when I say that this year has demanded more flexibility than we were willing to give and took things we weren’t ready or willing to surrender.
For our family, kindergarten looked nothing like the magical, PBJ-covered experience we hoped to give our son and instead consisted of laptop-centric remote learning and mask-enforced, socially distanced everything. We mourned the loss of time with grandparents, spontaneous gatherings with friends, and a general sense of normalcy where libraries were open, trips to the grocery store were easy, and the airport did not resemble a scene from “Outbreak.”
However, unlike the 3 million women forced to leave the workforce in a zero sum game of pandemic survival, I actually ended up working more, and was able to say “yes” to career opportunities I formerly had to put on hold.
The reason? My husband’s job which formerly consisted of weekly travel and mandatory office attendance shifted entirely remote. Suddenly I had an at-home partner in the daily responsibilities of parenting and household management. He certainly didn’t work less, but he certainly started working differently. As a result, I was no longer left to do three things at once or replace myself with carefully planned babysitters or childcare in order to participate in the broader career world. When everyone started working from home (or perhaps more accurately, living at work), opportunities for moms like me became more accessible.
While it hasn’t been perfect, it’s been a tectonic shift in the rhythm of our family, and one that we hope to continue in a post-COVID-19 world.
Something we’ve all discovered is that traditional office life was a choice, not a necessity. We did it because it’s what we always did, and with the exception of some forward-thinking startups or rogue outliers, it was status quo. Because we had no other choice (thanks to 2020), companies found that they can harness the power of technology to collaborate on projects, communicate on updates, and “meet” virtually saving everyone time and convenience. Now, the office is transitioning from a command performance location to a pseudo-clubhouse environment.
Beyond logistics, there has also been a shift in family visibility. When I worked as a freelance marketer, I had years-long relationships with clients who never knew I’d given birth to multiple children during the course of our working relationships. Admitting I had kids was a blackmark against my perceived professional competence or commitment.
During the pandemic, there was nowhere to hide the kids.
Suddenly that viral video of the BBC interview where a dad is interrupted by his kid that seemed so wild four years ago, is now an everyday occurrence. Finally moms and dads had tiny people wandering around in the background of Zoom calls and begging for snacks and login codes during meetings. My husband’s coworker was unapologetically juggling a toddler in a call last week and when my daughter’s class had to go remote, the teacher was simultaneously rocking his weeks-old baby while teaching about the current spelling list via Google Meets.
There is no margin to pretend like our attention isn’t divided. We all have simultaneous responsibilities, but it doesn’t make our work less valuable or our commitments less strong.
With these shifts, I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Yet even as I celebrate these wins personally, I know that the “she-cession” of women who were forced to leave the workforce is something that our country will be recovering from even after we have the pandemic under control medically. A disproportionate number of women have abandoned careers and that itself is a symptom of a bigger problem; it is reflective of the systems we’ve constructed that have not evolved with the times.
While essential workers and business are exempt, other companies can take steps that insulate us from this kind of loss of talent when it is preventable.
Working moms are an untapped resource. They are typically highly strategic multitaskers who can navigate tricky relational dynamics in a variety of situations. If they’ve opted to stay at home and temporarily suspend their career ambitions, they are likely motivated and energized to leave the diaper-changing and kid schedule-management at least for a few hours a day.
At Core Ventures, we saw this goldmine before COVID-19 became a part of our daily lexicon, and our workplace is better for it. Our team of high-performing, high-character individuals is composed largely of working moms who deliver results regardless of what schedule they work on. Central to this structure is trust. Because we hire top talent, we can trust that they don’t drop balls or skirt the system, they do the work that needs to get done, often going above and beyond and we don’t have to waste time with Big Brother measures to check in.
While their availability may be more restricted, that does nothing to inhibit their talent, drive, or competence. Workplaces need to adapt to harness this talent, and if COVID-19 has taught us nothing else, it is that we ARE adaptable. When flexible options become ubiquitous, men and women can start to contribute in more equal ways to caring for children and handling family responsibilities to make workplace participation a more level playing field.
Successful businesses know that women are good for the workforce and good for the economy. Instead of punishing moms for wearing multiple hats, we should incentivize and enable them to do just that.