This Year for Mother’s Day, Give Moms a Voice
Since 2020, this time of year has served as a period of reflection for me. This year, as I look back on three years of varying stages of the pandemic, I still remember the day in March 2020 that schools were suddenly canceled, leaving my entire team of employees scrambling for safety and a plan on how we would all move forward. I have an enormous amount of gratitude that I came out on the other side of it all with my life, business, and family intact. But gratitude quickly turns to disappointment as I realize how much time has passed and how little has changed for mothers since our lives were turned upside down.
It’s no secret that mothers had it tough during the pandemic. Many of us found ourselves with no choice but to multitask as caregivers, full-time employees, and homeschool teachers. As a result, we left the workforce at nearly twice the rate of men during the same period. There were moments in the daily struggle where I found solace in the idea that mothers everywhere were tirelessly serving as the glue that kept an entire generation safe, and hoped that all we were doing from home – working, teaching, and raising a family all at once – would be the catalyst we needed to give mothers some support in the United states.
Amidst the chaos, tragedy, and tantrums, there were moments of hope for mothers. With everyone from morning news anchors to CEOs to Jimmy Fallon forced to work from home in the company of their children, the challenges of being a full-time working parent became mainstream, often playing out on the screens live in front of our eyes. No one was safe from a mid-Zoom snack request, singing toy, or nap-time ending doorbell. For one fleeting moment, mothers were not only seen, we were also shown appreciation, apathy, and grace.
Just when I became optimistic that mothers would finally get the support they needed to be equal members of society, the moment passed nearly as quickly as toilet paper flew off supermarket shelves.
Today, as women make their return to the workforce, we are met with a familiar but increasingly ugly foe: the child care crisis. Child care was expensive before the pandemic, but a severe lack of child care workers has resulted in limited the slots available and skyrocketed demand, and thus price. In fact, a May 2022 McKinsey & Company report found the average annual cost of child care for one child is not affordable for a family with a median household income of $130,000. As of October 2022, the estimated median household income was $78,813, making child care for only one child unaffordable for most American families.
Why is this not being talked about?
At the same time that approximately half of the country is living in a neighborhood with too few childcare workers, companies are revoking the one key pandemic perk that has kept moms in the workforce at all: flexible work. While studies show that flexible work is crucial to employee retention and recruitment, corporate leaders nationwide including Amazon, Disney, and JP Morgan have called employees back to the office.
With 9 out of 10 companies predicted to require employees to work from the office in 2023, it seems my dreams of how the pandemic might serve as a pivotal time for motherhood in America are dashed. While mothers worldwide were applauded as they filled the role of teacher, parent, and full-time employee all from their living rooms, it was not enough for corporate America to maintain the pandemic-era perks that made it at all possible.
The struggle, however, doesn’t end when a family is lucky enough to obtain child care. In the inevitable event that unreliable child care causes a parent to arrive late to work, leave early, or miss work altogether, it does not go without consequence. A study by ReadyNation released this year found 1 in 4 parents reported being fired for work interruptions due to child care breakdowns, and the crisis is now taking a toll on the economy at large. The same study reported “the price tag for the lack of access to affordable child care was $122 billion in 2022 due to lost wages, productivity and tax revenue.” That’s more than twice the pre-pandemic cost.
Even the benefits women had when the pandemic began are now gone. A survey by the World Economic Forum shows that the number of organizations that offer paid maternity leave in the U.S. dropped from 56% in 2020 to 35% in 2022. Despite evidence that shows women to be more productive than men, it seems corporate America chooses to first cut the lifelines that keep women in the workforce.
Why are we going backwards? Why is support for mothers, who were at one time considered some type of pandemic heroes, the first place businesses look when cutting costs?
When more women work, economies grow, yet there have never been so many barriers for mothers in America to simply go to work. Even Shark Tank’s own Kevin O’Leary stated openly on Instagram that his women-led companies outperform all of those run by men. In the only industrialized country in the world without government-mandated paid parental leave, our women are having babies with little to no support and still outperforming men. What would happen if we actually offered mothers sufficient systematic support? What impact would that have not only on our country’s economic growth but also the health of our mothers and families?
As the dust settles on the pandemic-era workplace, one thing has been made abundantly clear: it’s up to employers to implement change. That’s why this Mother’s Day, I am calling on employers to give mothers what they really need: a voice. With the odds stacked against us, our last hope for societal equality are the employers that will support us, and opening the door to a conversation about what moms need at work is a no-cost first step toward showing them they are valued.
Motherhood in the workplace cannot be watered down to scheduled pumping breaks and framed photos on a desk. The time has come to finally invite women to bring their entire selves to work, which means asking and learning about their needs as mothers in addition to their needs as employees. In the short term, acknowledgement for what mothers are going through can improve employee happiness. In the long term, giving mothers a seat at the table can lead to policies that can reduce the attrition of new mothers, such as paid leave, equal pay, flexible work, and child care support.
As a mom of six and a small business owner, I will always look back on that time as when I felt connected to every mother and business owner in this country. I will recall that we were all forced to show up in a way we have never been asked to before to carry our families and the economy through a collective trauma. That same desire to preserve and succeed needs to continue until working mothers are celebrated and supported in the United States.
It all starts with a simple conversation, and every employer has the budget to open the door to it.