6 Words That Could Save Women’s Careers

WFH mom caring for her daughter

A few months ago, I saw a LinkedIn post from a working dad shouting out to his daycare for enabling him to WFH (side note – yay teachers!). His wife worked in a lab, and his job would have been impossible if he had to simultaneously work and care for his two sons.

Flash forward a few months and I had a similar conversation with a WFH mom friend who was telling me about her situation – only she was working at home with the kids while her husband went to the job. 

That got me to wonder – could it be a trend? So I started asking. And sure enough, in my little (very little) poll of people in my universe, if dad was home and an opening was available, the kids mostly went to daycare. If mom was home, and dad was physically on the job, the kids mostly stayed home. 

“Almost all my friends seem to have a husband that needs to work without disruption from, like 7-7 while we’re home with the kids,” one very busy working mom told me. “What does that say? Hmmmmm.” 

What does it say? 

Let me state right here that my tiny sampling is in no way meant as an indictment of working dads. According to this, working father’s careers are taking a hit, too. And many (most) are stepping up in profound ways, taking on more of the responsibilities, and discovering (by their own admission) new purpose in fatherhood. 

But they’re still enough of a unicorn to make headlines. And the experiences seem to reflect at least social norms that hold women back, particularly those that make it more socially acceptable for dad than mom to ask for help – as if women are somehow genetically coded to be able to do it all. Those stereotypes hamstring women in normal times, making mom (as our Modern Family Index pointed out a couple of years ago) both default parent and collective rememberer of all things. 

Today the costs are cataclysmic. The National Women’s Law Center reports that of the million-plus people who left the workforce this past summer, 80% were women. McKinsey’s new Women in the Workforce 2020 shows a quarter of women weighing their work options. It goes to the rise of the word, “shecession.” 

What would help the WFH mother? At the top of the list of course is child care. But there’s more than that. Which brings us to the second thing employers can do; the six communicated words that could save women’s careers: “It’s okay to ask for help.”

You’d be surprised how many people declare child care optional if a woman works at home (and btw, anyone who says that clearly never had a toddler). And it sticks. If women’s guilt keeps them from calling in the reserves when they WFH (and the women I talked to said it does), stated permission from the boss could speak volumes. 

Our clients know this. They’re emphatically in the corner of child care. They want their people to know that it’s not only ok to use the child care they offer while employees WFH – it’s encouraged. As one of our very wise clients told the Boston Globe, “How do you bring your best self to work? It’s not when you are trying to educate two children at home simultaneously in between Zoom calls.” That company has a whole fleet of working parents using child care, and so showing up at labs every day to do important work on COVID. 

The pandemic has changed our workplaces forever. WFH will continue even after COVID is in our rearview mirrors, so why not lay the groundwork now? “This is an emergency for corporate America,” reads the McKinsey report. “Companies risk losing women in leadership—and future women leaders—and unwinding years of painstaking progress toward gender diversity.” Think of what those six little words could do.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

October 28, 2020

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.