Will lockdown see the end of presenteeism and finally give working mums career equality?

Article by Alicja Lloyd, European Managing Director at Feed Agency

Mum juggling childcare and working from homeFor every working mum, parent or care giver that has been refused flexible working because ‘it just wouldn’t work for the company’ – lockdown has been a strange epiphany.

The pandemic has accelerated remote working in ways no-one could really have predicted. And whisper it – the world did not stop turning. Having no choice but to allow – indeed insist – that your teams work from home has ended up being a real-time live experiment and the results are in: it works.

Sure, it has been hard. Home schooling on top of working, genuine fears for the safety of ourselves and our loved ones, being unable to draw on the physical support of friends and family coupled with economic uncertainty would never have been part of the plan.

But it works.

I am lucky in that Feed Agency, where I work, has a flexible structure and is a champion of flexible working. We are a digital agency after all and even managed to onboard and activate a whole team in Toronto during lockdown without having physically met any of them.

But that has not always been the case elsewhere.

The pressure of presenteeism and the enduring Don Draper-esque insistence of late hours and weekend working, just to be seen, should not be the standard anymore. We should be promoting efficiency, not the perception that those who work longest, work hardest.  Additionally, throughout my career I have found that preconceptions are often directed more at working mums.  Why is our industry still preoccupied about the time we are in the office? When I leave on time, it may be because I must do the school run but it might not be.  The main point should be that I am able to because I have done my work within my working hours by effectively managing my own time. This is something that I try to foster in all my team members, both men and women, parents, and non-parents.

Whilst the pandemic has shown that 100% working from home can in fact work and be efficient, this may not be the ‘new normal’ for everyone.   Many will still want to experience the benefits of coming into the office at times – socialising with colleagues, a change of scene etc – but I hope when we emerge from lockdown and the new normal really does feel just, well… normal, that we will be able to take the lessons we have learned around WFH and use it to give people the flexibility to do their best work and be their best selves. I hope mums, parents, carers and anyone who can do great work but not in the traditional workplace can finally been seen properly without whatever label has been attached to them.

To finally get the promotion without presenteeism. To finally get career equality.

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