The challenge for working mothers to balance their parental and professional identities has never been more marked than during the pandemic.
The boundaries between work and home life have become increasingly blurred, with parents often wearing the multiple hats of worker, parent and teacher at the same time.
Numerous surveys of working parents over the past year have shown that a disproportionate share of the burden has fallen on women. Rising numbers are leaving the labor market altogether – and there are fears that COVID-19 is reversing progress towards gender equality.
As the UK gradually emerges from lockdown and enters the ‘new normal’, it is vital that employers, through their managers and leaders, listen to the voices of working mothers. If organisations are to successfully build back better, they will need to hold onto talented female employees and ensure they can remain both productive and engaged.
It’s important to recognise, however, that supporting employees with family responsibilities is not just about providing flexible working arrangements. Our research at Hult Ashridge suggests women also need help managing the tension between their work and home selves.
Findings from our Working Parents Shift research show that on the one hand, parents want their managers and colleagues to recognise them as a whole person with responsibilities outside work – but at the same time, they also value having a professional identity separate from their role as a parent.
Corporate initiatives typically focus on helping working mothers manage the practical challenges of their dual role, but there are ways organisations can help to support the psychological shift too:
Create support networks for sharing: Parents described the value of being able to share their experiences with someone in the same industry or organisation (not just their friends). Providing internal support networks and mentoring or buddying programmes will help with this. Parents can share stories, discuss any challenges (psychological or practical) and support each other.
Recognise the span of parenthood: Companies tend to concentrate on supporting parents on their immediate return from maternity leave, but it’s important to recognise that challenges continue throughout parenthood. Experienced working parents need support as much as new returners – it’s just that the nature and timing of support may be different, and their feelings about their ‘work self’ may vary as parenthood unfolds.
Take an individual approach: Every family is different, and family life is constantly shifting. Organisations need to give managers the autonomy to take an individual approach and working alongside the parents in their team to find create solutions that meet both individual and business needs.
Work together: There is a need for flexibility on both sides, and organisations and individuals need to work together. Organisations need to provide the opportunity to communicate and create working solutions together with their working parents. Individuals need to be prepared and willing to adapt to changing family and work needs.
We would like to speak to more parents as part of our ongoing ‘Working Parents Shift’ research. To take part, contact [email protected]
About the author
Dr Carina Paine Schofield is a Senior Research Fellow at Hult Ashridge Executive Education. Her broad research interests are in the areas of psychology (social, developmental, organisational, educational) and technology (AI and the effective use of technology in enhancing learning).
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