Q&A with Christine Michel Carter: What Will Happen to Women in the Workplace? Part I

Working mom greeting her kids after work

In early 2020, women seemed on the cusp of real progress at work. Then came the pandemic. “In one month,” read the Boston Globe’s grim May 2020 headline, “job cuts wipe out women’s gains of the past decade.”

The economy may be on the upswing, but women’s numbers are still flagging – down more than a million working mothers at last count. As the talent market picks up and employers fight for every new hire, we talked to Christine Michel Carter (“The #1 Global Voice For Working Moms”) about what we learned from the pandemic, why women are so important, and where successful employers go from here.

Lisa Oppenheimer: A lot of headlines talk about women exiting the workplace. But it’s so often characterized as a career problem.

Christine Michel Carter: It’s absolutely a business problem. Losing women in the workplace is a loss of diversity, which means it’s a loss of innovation and different thought perspectives, which is a loss of revenue. It’s also a loss of empathy, so it’s detrimental to our society. And it’s a loss of talent, because there are so many CEOs today -- men and women -- who learned a lot of their leadership skills looking at their mom.

LO: It feels like we’ve been having this conversation forever.

CMC: We have been having this conversation forever, since WWII when women stepped into the workforce and were then told to leave because the men had returned. It was a conversation again in the 80s when women were becoming powerful leaders in corporate America.

LO: But something feels different this time, no? The numbers feel like they have people really worried.

CMC: It does feel different. Had it not been for the pandemic, I don’t think there would be a discussion about such a suite of holistic benefits offered by employers. I don’t think we’d be talking so candidly about the motherhood penalty and the housework tax and how those things force women out of the workforce, especially female executives. I don’t think we’d be talking about how much it’s going to cost in the long run to replace these employees versus retaining them.

LO: Retention is huge – especially with all the news predicting mass resignations. What’s it going to take to keep women?

CMC: I think it’s threefold. First, women have to be able to bring their authentic selves to work. They have to be free to be assertive and say, “I am a mother first or I’m a caregiver, I have responsibilities, and what balance looks like to me is XYZ.” A lot of women feel like they are judged unfairly or are penalized for being mothers.

Second, it’s up to the employers to keep the offerings that they launch mid-pandemic available even post-pandemic. Because women’s stress doesn’t end; the needs and responsibilities as moms outside of the workplace don’t end because the pandemic is over.

And then third, from a government perspective, we need better policies about what sick leave could look like, and what affordable child care could look like. Because that’s certainly a crisis for mothers in various states.

LO: So it sounds like employers have a big part to play?

CMC: Absolutely. They do have a big part to play. Companies need to be thinking about innovative solutions to address the needs of their working parents. So again, that will mean offering the suite of benefits, like back-up child care; having a sick-care offering; understanding that all employees don’t work on the same schedule; providing flexible and remote hours.

Part II coming soon...

Recruiting & Retaining Female Talent: Secrets of Successful Companies [Webinar]

While millions of women left the labor force during the pandemic, many are returning to work. Join our panel discussion of women leaders to learn what your organization can do to win women back — and prevent history from repeating itself.

Woman leader in her office

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Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

June 16, 2021

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.