As Mother’s Day approaches, McKinsey looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a reckoning between career ambitions and family aspirations for many women, and what companies can do to help them.
Working mothers are a resilient group, accustomed to juggling work responsibilities and family time with aplomb. Before the COVID-19 crisis, they had slowly been making progress in the workplace. But the challenges of the past year have made many wonder whether all the scrambling has been worth it.
McKinsey’s 2020 Women in the Workplace report, conducted with LeanIn.Org, revealed a startling statistic: one in four working women in North America said that they were considering downshifting their careers or dropping out of the workforce entirely. For working mothers, and particularly those with young children, the number was one in three.
Research from McKinsey over the past year shows just how dramatically the pandemic has affected working mothers. They’ve grappled with a “double shift” of household responsibilities, mental health challenges, a more difficult remote-work experience, and concerns about higher rates of unemployment—particularly among mothers of color and single mothers. These burdens come on top of structural barriers for working women, including being the “only” woman in the room and playing an allyship role for others.
We know that women’s advancement in the workforce matters; companies with more women executives are more likely to outperform those with fewer senior women. Working mothers comprised nearly a third of the female workforce in the United States in 2020,1 so employers cannot afford to ignore or minimize the hardships that millions of women now face. If organizations respond well by building a more flexible and empathetic workplace, they can retain the employees most affected by the pandemic and nurture a culture in which working mothers have equal opportunity to achieve their potential. And there are signs that this is beginning to happen.
In this article, we explore McKinsey analysis that highlights the challenges facing working mothers, coupled with actions that companies can take to help these women get back on track.
The pandemic stall: Working mothers hit a wall
Our research shows that before the pandemic, working mothers had similar career ambitions as working women overall. In fact, the Women in the Workplace data from 2019 indicated that working mothers in North America appeared to register higher ambition numbers in several key categories.
But the pandemic altered that equation: the added burdens at work and at home since the COVID-19 crisis began have pushed roughly 33 percent of working mothers to consider downshifting their careers or leaving their jobs altogether. In a workforce that generally begins at gender parity but drops off steeply throughout the promotion pipeline, a step back from employment—and a related drop in promotion rates for women—may upend years of progress.
Mental health has taken a hit
Mental health challenges and burnout have emerged as significant issues for all workers during the pandemic. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey in 2020 found that 45 percent of Americans feel that the COVID-19 crisis is harming their mental health. Globally, the impact on women has been striking: our survey on diverse employees showed that across both advanced and developing countries, mothers (at 75 percent) are more likely than fathers (69 percent) to be struggling with mental health concerns.
In a separate survey on the employee experience, McKinsey looked at how remote work was affecting different groups and found that while all workers were experiencing some degree of disruption, the impact on working mothers versus working fathers was stark. Remote-working mothers showed much lower levels of well-being than remote-working fathers.
Read the full article here.