We are deep in the “new normal” of WFHWK. Layoffs continue. Budgets are on hold or getting axed. Parents trying to balance WFH and kids at home are under greater pressure and time constraints. The margins between work and home have dissolved entirely. In an environment where everyone is thinking about job security, is the impact the same for women and men? We decided to ask.
In an online survey we recently completed, men are spending much more time “at work” while women are spending more time caring for children. In fact, more than twice the number of women than men report spending 12+ hours a day to care for children outside of school. In a similar vein, The New York Times recently reported results of a study that found nearly half of men say they do most of the home schooling but only 3 percent of women agree. While it has always been the case that women carry a heavier workload of parental duties at home, it appears COVID has made the imbalance more dramatic.
No Clean Margins
The productivity gap between moms and dads is growing wider. While many men and women are feeling more productive on the whole, there are still concerning discrepancies. Yes, we have taken out two hours of daily commuting and increased our ability to multitask, which may make us feel more productive, but in the long run, I fear this will be counterproductive. Employees with kids, especially women, are struggling to do it all. Their lives have been reduced entirely to family + work, with zero cushion in between. The thin margin between work and home has disappeared.
The division of work at home has always been imbalanced. In households with 2 full-time working parents pre-COVID (let’s use that term), mothers traditionally spent more time managing their children’s schedules and activities. Post-COVID life has brought with it new duties. Without teachers to help monitor and assign schoolwork, the extra burden of managing their children’s school-at-home efforts has fallen disproportionately on moms.
Compounding matters, now that they’re home 24/7, men are putting the pedal down and accelerating into work, while mothers pull double duty. A recent survey shows that more men than women are spending 9+ hours a day on work. If men are able to put in more hours at work than women are right now, how will that affect performance and opportunities for women?
There are limited hours in a day, so the impact on work should surprise no one. Women spend less time on their professional work, men work more.
I suppose the good news is we’re getting extra bonding time with the kids. (Yay! Now do your homework and don’t disturb dad, he’s on a call.) The downside is being felt at work as women are falling more behind.
Now many companies are encouraging employees to work from home through the end of 2020, if not longer. Dr. Fauci expressed concerns this week about a second spike impacting the next school year. (Want to see a mom on the brink of insanity? Suggest that quarantine might last next school year.) This is far from over. But whether the stay at home orders last a few months or much longer, what will the impact be on career trajectory in the short, medium and long term?
Are we holding mothers to unrealistic expectations at work, knowing they are doing more at home with less time for work, while their male peers are leaning in at work more than ever?
Dining Room or War Room?
Leaving aside the career implications, how are women managing?
At my home we’ve lost any semblance of boundaries. I finish Zoom calls while transferring freshly washed laundry to the dryer. My kitchen table has become the war room. Covered with a massive sheet of paper, it contains the kids’ work, doodles, drawings … and notes of my conversations with VCs as our start up works through Series A discussions. Want to see a puffy cloud next to a cap table? The dining room walls are no longer for family portraits. They’re for hanging sheets of paper showing 5 of my kids’ daily activity lists.
When The “Work Week” Becomes Merely The “Week”
Pre-COVID, I followed a strict “no phone” policy, especially from 6-8pm with family. That now feels impossible. The entire work week has melded together, a blend of Monday and Saturday (Monderday?), 7 days a week, with each day a little less productive than it was before. It seems with the kids at home, the interruptions demand so much time that work has to fill every remaining moment. But … does it?
What can we do to lessen the burden especially for working women, who continue to shoulder most of the load at home?
What are the longer-term consequences of the all day/everyday blend of work and life? Is there an off button? Are we ever really focused on … well … anything?