Originally published on LinkedIn by Ibtehal Fathy, Global Inclusion & Diversity.
One year after the closure of schools and childcare facilities due to COVID-19, working parents continue to struggle with the competing demands of full-time work, caregiving, and teaching. While the demands are not new, the pandemic has pushed the already fragile structures and policies in place to support working parents, but particularly working mothers, to a breaking point. As a result, the world has seen a mass exodus of working mothers from the workforce and a mental health crisis for mothers that urgently needs to be addressed. A study in Canada found mothers reported higher rates of depression and anxiety during the pandemic.
As a mother and the Global Inclusion and Diversity leader at Mars, I know what it feels like to juggle remote work while managing full-time childcare for my 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. My husband, mother, and I combined our forces to home school our children. My husband and I attended school sessions and helped our kids with homework in the mornings, meanwhile juggling business meetings and projects into the evenings. There is no denying that COVID-19 has made it virtually impossible for me to focus on my own health and well-being. Mothers need support now, more than ever, and they will need it in the future. Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the University of Michigan who advises policymakers on issues affecting women and families rightfully noted, “2020 was like lifting a car off your kids; 2021 is going to have to be ‘How are those women able to heal?’”
As we reflect on the celebration of Mother’s Day, and the observance of Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S. in May, it is past time that we honor and uplift our mothers by supporting their mental health and wellness. Employers have a critical role to play in doing so.
At Mars, we are expanding our approach to flexible work beyond the pandemic. By encouraging women Associates to choose their schedules and environments, we are providing them with the autonomy they need to reach their full potential.
Employers must also prioritize, not penalize, caregiving and mental health. At Mars, we launched a campaign to support working mothers and their mental health. #TheMassiveOvershare campaign helped normalize conversations around maternal mental health. Additionally, Mars offers Associates support with mental health, resilience, parenting, and relationships through our Associate Assistance Program (AAP). Many Associates have been impacted by COVID-19 in different ways. As such, our AAP program helps all Associates cope with the impact of the pandemic and isolation.
We, as corporate leaders, need to retain the women we have, bring back the women we lost, and empower and support women to thrive in our workplaces. If we choose not to focus on working mothers, we will continue to see a decline in women in the workforce and, in turn, reverse and erode the progress we have made thus far. Disruptive innovations, representation of our consumer base, and greater collaboration are all key to business success and more broadly the success of our economies depends on the full participation of women in our workforce.
Globally, women accounted for an estimated $31.8 trillion in consumer spending in 2019. Eighty-nine percent of women across the world reported controlling or sharing daily shopping needs, compared to only 41% of men. The perspectives and voices of the world’s largest consumer segment are critical to include in our executive teams, corporate boards, and business teams. Research from McKinsey show that gender-balanced teams achieve greater results. Helping women rejoin our workforce is not just the right thing to do; it is a business imperative.