With schools closed in 162 countries, 70% of children worldwide are affected by disruptions to their education in mid-May. For parents, part of the ‘new normal’ means juggling working from home alongside providing education support for their children. BCG surveyed 3055 working parents in five countries; UK, USA, France, Germany, and Italy. As a result of lock down, parents identify an additional 27 hours allocated to education, household chores, and keeping children entertained; in most cases, this is nearly equivalent to a second job and on top of pre-existing household responsibilities. When it comes to the gender divide, women spend an extra 15 hours on domestic labor compared to men. These figures provide an essential lens in understanding the impact on maintaining work and identifying the levels of stress experienced by families where both parents are working. During mental health awareness week, the effect on well-being is documented in the survey with just under half of women (49%) and 43% of men sleeping fewer hours compounding stress levels. 66% of women and 52% of men express concerns about their mental health, and 65% of women and 59% of men worried about their physical health.
The data shines a spotlight on the complexity of areas that organizations need to address now to create more reliable and more robust working environments in the face of extreme turbulence. Speaking to Anne Nguyen, Managing Director & Partner at BCG and chair of the regional Women@BCG network, she discusses the implications of the critical issues that emerge from the survey. Nguyen, states, the numbers are immense and highlight the enormity of the problem and impact on working parents; “It is important that we’ve given data to this area. It’s a topic that invokes a lot of emotion, and everyone’s individual experiences and biases come into play, but almost uniformly when you are presented with data the conversation takes on a completely different tone, it becomes more objective as emotions are stripped out of it. It drives people more towards solutions rather than debating – is this really an issue?”
The survey shows a strong positive outcome; nearly 80% of the respondents stated that their companies had adjusted their policies to make it slightly more manageable in consideration of the challenges. Nguyen states, “Given the speed by which governments and schools have had to shut down, I am encouraged by companies adapting to that quickly.” The agility demonstrated by these companies identifies a willingness to react quickly to create more flexible working conditions for employees. Flexible working is a central plank to building an inclusive culture. The current situation is testing the appetite of companies to consider a flexible approach as a longer-term working culture. Nguyen states, “I’m heartened that companies have adopted more flexibility programs in response to this, however I think it’s just one small step in terms of what is needed: it’s going to be really tested. The question is whether corporations and companies are going to be able to actually pull it off in a meaningful way and trust employees to be able to work remotely effectively.” She goes on to state the need to balance expectations; “we can find ourselves in a situation where we’re literally even more on all the time that we have.”
While the working world has completely changed, the data on mental health and well-being speaks to the need for a deeper-seated shift in how things are done at societal and at work and in the home. Flexibility is core to the shift change starting with open conversations at home about how domestic responsibilities are shared with employers asking their colleagues what they need to work efficiently during the likely prolonged period of uncertainty we are facing. “I think this is where it’s going to be tested, whether corporations and companies are going to be able actually to pull it off in a meaningful, long-term way.”
Organizations with a strong track record of moving forwards with diversity and inclusion are more likely to have the resilience to navigate the current uncertainty. Paying attention to the most vulnerable groups is hard work but can be enormously beneficial. Dr Charmi Patel, Associate Professor in Human Resource Management at Henley Business School, highlights the difficulty in navigating this area; “Everything we’ve learned about unintended consequences suggests that we need to pay attention to the signals, messages, and interpretations behind these programs/initiatives. Invisible messages are difficult to combat, but they also create opportunities for leaders to take control of the messaging and be more thoughtful about how they talk about and justify diversity initiatives. Most leaders often fail to realize that when they talk about these initiatives, it makes diversity appear like a zero-sum game. By paying attention to invisible messages, leaders can provide a more positive narrative. Diversity is good but also hard work and entails perspective taking.”
In working to create a positive environment for the most marginalized groups, including working mothers, the organization has the potential to benefit from the halo effect of creating a more inclusive culture. For progress to be maintained, Nguyen emphasizes the importance of regularly monitoring progress through credible data. De-cluttering fact from anecdotes is essential for executive leadership to focus on where to pay attention, “you’re talking about open communication to almost ruthlessly ensure that it is a topic of conversation, even if nothing, quote, unquote, has moved. Companies should continue to do things that they’ve already been doing, track their progress, and force themselves regularly to have conversations about this area. If you have a group of executives looking at data, it starts discussions differently.”
Nguyen shares three key areas companies can focus on to adapt to the situation and build momentum to create a more inclusive culture for working parents.
Originally posted on Forbes