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[COMMENTARY] Moms Are Driving the Great Resignation

[COMMENTARY] Moms Are Driving the Great Resignation

Working mothers are driving the workplace revolution “Great Resignation”; it’s called a She-cession because 80% of the record number of employees who left their jobs this fall were women. The pandemic brought a gift to working mothers: an unprecedented opportunity to renegotiate the terms of employment. It’s imperative they seize it.

(Photo by Martin Keene/PA Images via Getty Images)

My research, published in the Journal of Mental Health, found that during the pandemic, individuals working from home with a family experienced positive benefits in both work and family roles.  These included improved relationships with family members, better conflict resolution skills at work and home, and higher job satisfaction due to increased flexibility at work. 

Working mothers are tired of workplaces that force them to choose between work or family, or tell them what to do in terms of work and family. As women are writing the history of their participation in work they are feeling empowered to set the terms for their employment. 71% of women are BOTH a worker and a mother. In a September 2021 study by the Hamilton Project, only 35% of mothers stated they would return to work under the same conditions that existed pre-pandemic, and 22% of mothers stated they intend to reduce their hours at work. Women want to remain in the workforce, and instead of leaving work four out of ten women in the past year considered switching their place of work for an employer that is more family-friendly.

Women have been well aware of the gender inequities that exist in the workplace, with the most notable inequity being the pay gap in which women currently make 80% of what men make. In 1989 Arlie Hochschild used the term “second shift”  to refer to the unpaid work women do at home in addition to paid work. This second shift work was exacerbated during the pandemic as women found themselves increasing the amount of time spent on unpaid work while maintaining jobs, which led to higher levels of burnout.

At the beginning of the 20th century, most women didn’t work outside the home. During World War II women were relied on for work in America and in the 1970s women started to prepare themselves for a career with higher education.  In the 1990s women’s participation in the workforce increased to 74%, and then in 2020 the pandemic hit, and experts believe it will be 2024 before women’s workforce participation reaches pre-pandemic levels again.

What COVID did for working mothers was to bring family life into work life. Prior to COVID-19, working mothers were afraid to ask for concessions from their employer for family life due to possible backlash from an employer.  Women no longer have to pretend they don’t have family, or that they are mysteriously achieving it all or are maintaining work/family balance

The loss of women in the workforce has proven negative implications. Companies with less diversity earn less annually than companies that have at least 24% female employees. One study found that gender equality in the workplace would increase the gross domestic product in America by 5%. Additionally companies with more women in leadership perform better in terms of greater productivity and greater profitability. 

Workers are demanding more autonomy and flexibility in the workplace. “shifts app” which allows employees to schedule their shifts at times that meet employee’s  needs. However, some C.E.O.s find it difficult to give up control on how the company is run, being able to keep tabs on who is or is not sitting at their desk, and have concerns about the lack of human connections that can prohibit innovation for companies like Google.  Yet even IBM, where the formal office work culture expected business dress every day, is embracing a mentality that as longest look at the Hearst Magazine employees who filed an Unfair Labor Practice lawsuit over a mandatory return to the office. Starbucks is also using a “shift as the work gets done and employees are still productive, workday policies can be relaxed because that’s what employees need right now. 

We aren’t going back to a pre-pandemic workplace mentality of keeping work at work, and home life at home. In fact, 61% of workers are willing to take a pay cut in order to continue working remotely, and 52% of men and 60% of women say they will quit their employment if they are not allowed to continue some work from home. That’s 1 in every 2 people who won’t return to a job that doesn’t offer options for remote work. Those who choose not to seize this opportunity to change the workplace are giving up some of the freedom working remotely has provided such as spending more time with family and completing work tasks without being micromanaged in the office.

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Now is the time for women to request, or even demand, what they need from an employer. As working mothers insist that family life be recognized, the workplace will shift so that family and work are more integrated than separate, with a focus on employee well-being instead of balance.  That might mean not attending any meetings before 10 a.m. or after 2 p.m., and setting the terms of what flexibility looks like for individuals with different needs. 

Currently, working women are the focus of economic recovery in America. It’s also a job seeker’s market, so working mothers have power right now that wasn’t present pre-pandemic. Women must negotiate and negotiate smartly now. We can’t forge a road to gender equity based on the treatment of women in America right now. It’s time to explain to supervisors why this dissatisfaction will persist — and ask them to do something about it.

About the Author:

Emeline C. Eckart, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Graduate Counseling Department at the University of Indianapolis. She is also a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. Currently, she is examining the work and family roles of mothers and fathers in academia. She is a Public Voices Fellow through the OpEd Project.

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