The global response to the pandemic has been swift. The resulting lockdown – as I wrote last week – created a nightmare situation for many working parents. It’s just as well women have always excelled at fixing things behind the scenes: isn’t that what the mental load is all about?
And yet again women – working mums in particular – have stepped up. The evidence is compelling: news and research articles describing how women continue to shoulder much of the burden of care and household work in the ‘new normal’. And social media posts from women asking for tips on how to work and home school; how to negotiate with partners also working at home; and how to fit it all into 24 hours when sleep is a necessity.
In a crisis women respond. And in that same crisis they often find creative opportunities.
Now the talk is turning to what happens as restrictions are lifted. It’s time to turn our attention towards the future; and to creating a ‘new normal’ that suits us and our families better. Drawing on the experiences of the past few weeks here are a few small steps to take:
- Reflect on whether your business case for flexible working has strengthened. The consensus is that the enforced move to home working demonstrated to employers that more jobs can be worked flexibly than they were ever willing to acknowledge.
- Use this opportunity to negotiate the reduced hours arrangement you need. Given speculation that employers may need to cut jobs, this is an ideal way for yours to retain key skills. If you’re in a managerial or other senior role then job-share could be the way to proceed. It’s an easy one for employers to understand. And as they say: two heads are better than one. With planning the impact on employers is minimal and there are many intermediaries out there who can help set it up.
- Ask your HR department whether the organisation has a stated Work Life Balance Policy; and whether guidelines exist on how to switch off from work. Research has shown only half of employers provide any formal advice on how to manage the information and communications technologies that increasingly push us to be always connected to work. Research has also shown this takes its toll on mothers who often work a triple shift and end up exhausted.
- If your workplace has a Parents or Women’s network put improving work life balance on the agenda for the next meeting. Encourage people to share their recent experiences and reflect on how things can be improved to accommodate women’s unpaid (and often invisible) caring responsibilities.
- Use this time to normalise conversations around work life balance. Most of us are currently in the same boat: juggling home and work in unprecedented ways. We’re being encouraged to acknowledge the challenges when interacting with colleagues. But the risk remains that once schools open and grandparents come out of lockdown those challenges will again fall off the radar of managers and employers. It’s essential we ensure that doesn’t happen or women will continue to be underrepresented at senior levels in the workplace.
The creative part of our brains has been given a boost as we’ve engaged in play with our children or reconnected with our cookery skills. Let’s harness that new found creativity to establish new ways to lean in on our own terms.