Hey working moms: can you “have it all”?

Working mom at remote work with children at home
Working mom and happy children working remotely

How moms in the workforce weigh the pros and cons of remote work

You can’t have it all…how many times had women with children or those planning on having a family heard that phrase uttered in their direction? Well-meaning but misguided advice in the past from relatives, co-workers, teachers, advisors, and more chided that balancing a family and a career was not practical for any sustainable time. And yet, women persisted, and time and again proved that sentiment wrong.

Starting as early as the 1930s, the stigma for women working outside the home began to lift, and women began entering the workforce in greater numbers. In the ‘70s, the number rose to 40%. By the 1990s, women aged 25-54, albeit still facing equity challenges in pay, leadership and inclusivity, represented a remarkable 74% of the workforce. While individual sectors, like tech, are still challenged with an underrepresented female population, the needle was moving.

Yet now, decades from the time when women entered the workforce en masse, it seems that naysayers were quietly chiming the bell of “I told you so” after all. In just two short years, the pandemic stalled the progress created by women in the work world and, in some instances, reversed it. Between layoffs, downsizing, and the disruption in education and child care constraints, women in the workforce are “still short by 1.8 million jobs lost” from the start of the pandemic in February 2020. Even after some correction, unemployment levels continue to be at 3.6% for women and increase to 5 and 6%, respectively, for Latina and Black women.

Women at work felt the effects, including working moms

“According to a Brookings Institution report from August, moms with children under the age of 12 spent the equivalent of a second full-time job caring for kids while simultaneously working their regular jobs during the pandemic.” (Fortune)

With the rise of the pandemic, the historical role of women as caregivers re-emerged. Of course, over the last couple of decades, household and child-rearing responsibilities shifted from “almost solely Mom” to a more shared environment among parents. But studies still suggest that true equity was still a way off. When schools closed and consistent child-care outside of the home was restricted and unpredictable with outbreaks, quarantines, etc., working moms bared the brunt of the change, losing out on employment opportunities or transitioning to working from home, if it was an option, while at the same time being the primary caregiver.

Many who were able to maintain working at home reported a high level of stress and burnout as well as difficulty returning to the office.

Should working moms pursue continued remote work?

As the pandemic eases, schools reopen, and childcare becomes steadier, working moms are faced with a decision: returning to work in a physical location or continuing with a remote/hybrid work style that has become routine in the last two years. Surveys show that most workers, particularly women, who can work remotely prefer to remain doing so. However, it is not without its challenges, illustrated by contrasting headlines we read each day:

“For Women, Remote Work is a Blessing and a Curse” (VOX)

“You are Mommy Tracked to the Billionth Degree” (Politico)

“Could the New Hybrid Workplace Turn Some Women into Second-class Citizens?” (Forbes)

Those headlines alone could certainly deter women and moms from seeking out remote opportunities for various reasons. Research and feedback suggest particular negative aspects faced by working moms, and women in general, who are working remotely, including,

  • Fear of being left out of the conversation as some co-workers return to the office and are physically “present” when decisions are made.
  • The continued stress of juggling families and work in the same environment with no delineation from when the workday starts and ends (being able to “turn off work”).
  • The loss of natural networking opportunities with peers and management.
  • Limitations to advancement – the out of sight, out of mind syndrome.

As women have often faced hurdles of invisibility, advancement, and leadership positions, it’s clear that reasons like the above exacerbate those concerns when deciding to maintain a remote status or even when pursuing new opportunities.

On the other hand, the newfound flexibility of working remotely is hard to relinquish, with reasons that often apply to a working mom. Positives like:

  • Limited or no commutes that decrease travel costs and allow for a “shortened” workday. Overall, not physically sitting in the office reduces expenses through food, clothing budgets, and more.
  • The ability to manage household tasks without taking PTO for minor appointments is a benefit in pay, time, and productivity. Plus, a remote work schedule allows, in some instances, a flex schedule throughout the day itself, with the ability to shift hours when needed. In a GitHub data study, while still in the early stages of having accurate, quantifiable data on the effects of remote work, it did note that remote workers, like most workers in general, have seen an increase in the hours worked overtime. But in a remote setting, that doesn’t necessarily mean traditional office hours like 9-5, allowing working parents to address children’s needs as well.
  • New mothers enjoy increased time with newborns and infants if located in the home, with the added benefit for a more manageable nursing schedule if they so choose.
  • Negating the need for full-time child-care if a reasonable schedule and set-up from home can be maintained that allows for focus on work. And when a child is sick and home from school, there is less panic in juggling who takes the day off to care for them.

Remote work is an important personal decision

Remote work is now simply carved into the work environment in some way. Employers are aware that offering a remote opportunity is increasingly necessary to build the talented workforce they need. Considering that studies show people working from home are just as, if not more, productive, it’s beneficial to both the worker and the organization. With the setback experienced by women in the workforce, remote work may be a viable solution to regaining the climbing numbers from before. Ultimately, however, it is an important decision made by working moms that will be made based on family dynamics in conjunction with their career trajectory.

SSi People tackled the critical topic of moms in the workforce in their podcast series “Moms Who Lead.”  Please review some of our episodes and hear from working mothers on their experiences, challenges they have faced, and their accomplishments navigating the modern work environment. To learn about new opportunities that offer remote work options, visit the SSi job board.

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