As the UK prepares to come out of lockdown, many parents will be getting back to ‘normal’ in the coming weeks. But how have working Mums been affected by Coronavirus?
It’s been a long two and a half months, what with balancing remote working, home-schooling and, in my case, looking after young children, and there has no doubt been an impact on our productivity.
So, how will this time of isolation have affected working Mums adversely? The stats are beginning to show that is likely to be the case.
Research in Canada shows what economists are calling the ‘she-cession’.
Working Mums are finding it harder to return to work than Dads (employment raised by 1.1% for women compared to 2.4% for men) and that is mainly being attributed to issues with childcare.
Among parents of at least one child under the age of six, men were around three times more likely to have returned to work than women, while women of children under the age of 18 are more likely to be working less than half their usual hours.
It seems women in Canada are taking on the bulk of the childcare, and the same is true in the UK.
As we deal with schools and nurseries being closed, we too are facing a ‘motherhood penalty’.
How are working Mums affected by the impact of Coronavirus?
The Institute of Fiscal studies and University of London recently revealed that for every three hours of uninterrupted work Dads are managing to do, Mums are getting one.
And it doesn’t stop there, working Mums are 47% more likely than Dads to have lost their jobs or quit during the pandemic and they’re also more likely to have had their hours reduced substantially.
I think many of us respond with a knowing nod when we read these statistics, possibly while muttering, ‘no s**t, Sherlock’ under our breaths.
It’s something I have been hearing about since we were first asked to stay at home, and it’s the reason I began creating my video series, Working Parents on Lockdown.
Although there are many examples of families where the parents have found a good balance, the vast majority will back what the IFS survey says: Mums are taking the majority of the load when it comes to looking after house and kids.
Mums are getting up early and staying up late to get their work done while the children sleep, meanwhile the Dad is locked away in the spare room getting his done in peace.
Mums are having to request to be furloughed because they simply cannot manage both parenting and working.
Mums are buckling under the pressure of trying to be all things to all people… while their other half plays games on his Playstation (nope, not even kidding, that was one I saw on Facebook).
'I absolutely need to get back to work again'
I asked some fellow working Mums how they feel their work is being affected by Coronavirus:
Jemma from Thimble and Twig told me, ‘My children are in the years that have been asked to go back but their school is only taking back reception class children.’
‘We also rely on grandparents two days a week.’
‘I’m a teacher but haven’t been able to access the keyworker scheme which then impacts the support I can offer my own school – it’s bonkers!’
Emma Reed said, ‘My child is Year One and I was all geared up for him going back, but just before half term the school sent an email to say they are only taking reception.’
Clare Lush-Mansell explained, ‘I’m self-employed so I absolutely need to go back to work to start earning money again.’
‘My son in reception will be returning to school, but I have another in Year 3 who won’t be returning and a one year old who is usually looked after by family several days a week, but they are shielding.’
‘Having one child back at school will help, but I still won’t get much work done.’
Amy Fell agrees: ‘I’m self-employed and initially when lockdown hit my work disappeared overnight.’
‘Things are starting to pick up again but my kids are still off school, so I’m trying to get work done in the evenings and weekends.’
Gender equality mustn’t be reduced to a Mums vs Dads battle
When the BBC reported on the IFC survey results, I was disappointed to find the reaction online was one of defensiveness from both men and women:
‘My husband isn’t like that at all,’ they cried. ‘People need to stop grouping all men in one stereotype.’
And I understand, if the results from the survey don’t apply to you it is easy to feel compelled to stand up for yourselves, to show the world that there are great Dads out there.
My own household is a perfect example of this as my fiancée and I have divided our time equally: one of us stays in the study in the morning while the other looks after our two sons and then we swap at lunchtime.
But, whilst I acknowledge the positive stories of balance that do exist – that does not prevent me from wanting to talk about and stand up for the working Mums who are being affected by Coronavirus.
Talking about the cases where women are struggling is not a direct attack on all men, but all men and women can help make a change for the better.
Why are working Mums more affected by Coronavirus?
It’s important to look closely at the reason working Mums are more affected by Coronavirus than Dads and the simplest answer to that question is: tradition.
These scary statistics and case studies are the result of years of family life being lived in a certain way: Women are expected to prioritise raising the children while men must prioritise earning an income.
Changing that part of our culture is a long battle and it's not just about supporting Mums who want to work on their career.
We know Dads want to spend more time with their children, but are frowned upon for having this belief, that they are scared to ask for flexible working because it will stigmatise them as not being committed.
How do we stop working Mums being affected in the future?
John from Dad Blog UK looks at this topic in his recent post: ‘Ultimately, the IFS’s research is further evidence that poorly designed parental leave policies and employment policies place the childcare burden on women.’
For my Working Parents in Lockdown series, I spoke to Debbie Ingham from How Do You Do It, an organisation who support working Mums and Dads by helping organisations drive change through flexible working.
Debbie says they have heard from men who have said this has been a real eye-opener for what happens on the home front.
‘The number of men who work part-time shift patterns is much lower than women and it will be interesting to see if there is any shift there when we do return to some form of normal… that can affect things like the gender pay gap and career progression.’
Meanwhile organisations are being forced, voluntarily or involuntarily to ramp up their efforts to provide the resources needed for remote working:
‘The world of work could look really quite different after all of this.’ Debbie said.
‘It’s going to be a very long time until we are back to how things were and for many businesses it won’t be possible to wait that long to get everyone working.’
One thing this situation and this article proves is that we all face different circumstances and different expectations when it comes to balancing work life with family life.
Flexible working needs to reflect this, it needs to be adaptable to each person’s situation to allow them to be productive in their work, but also to have the time they need for their personal lives and personal health.
As Debbie explains perfectly: ‘It’s not so much that we are all in the same boat, but that we are all in the same storm.’
Now could be the time that we see a huge shift in the way we work, we must acknowledge and learn from the experiences many working Mums are having at this time.
I really hope the world doesn’t let this chance to change pass by.
Has Coronavirus affected your ability to work? Let me know in the comments below.
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