Child care has always been a major issue for working parents. But this year, work/life got much harder. Many families faced a tough decision: who keeps working and stops working to care for the kids? In most cases, it’s moms who sacrificed their careers; 2.2 million women were forced out of the workforce as a result of the pandemic, and 1.6 million of them are mothers. For those mothers who are working, many feel guilty, burnt out, and isolated. Blessing Adesiyan knows and has spoken with them. She is a mother of three and the founder and CEO of Mother Honestly, a global community for women that’s on a mission to reimagine how to thrive in motherhood, work, and life. Blessing joins the podcast to share lessons and stories from the community about how women have been impacted, and set back, at home and at work this year. And, she highlights steps employers are taking to better support working parents through this year of uncertainty...and beyond.
Listen to this episode to learn:
For more information, visit https://motherhonestly.com/.
How 2020 changed life for working mothers
Intro: Welcome to the Equal Parts Podcast, brought to you by Care@Work.
Emily Paisner: Being a working parent is hard, but you're not alone. The power of community can make being a working parent just a little bit easier, especially for working moms. That's the main message from today's guest, Blessing Adesiyan. She's a mom of three, a chemical engineer, and the founder and CEO of Mother Honestly, a global community for women with a mission of reimagining how to thrive in motherhood, work, and life.
Blessing shares lessons and stories from the community about all the ways, large and small, working women are being impacted and set back by the pandemic, and what it is they still need from their employers to feel more supported. Have a listen. Blessing, it's great to have you here today. Thank you so much for joining us.
Blessing Adesiyan: Thank you so much for having me, I'm excited.
Emily: Let's start by having you tell us a little bit about your background, and why you decided to found Mother Honestly.
Blessing: I am actually a chemical engineer by trade and worked for various Fortune 100 companies. During my time working, I had my son, which was my second. I have nine years between my kids and so I spent a lot of my time focusing on my career and then had my second child. I think I completely forgot what it means to be a working mother because I only had one, and I had a lot of help.
Then the second time around, I did not have any help, I had zero support. Through that time, I was just thinking about what it means to be an ambitious woman, and also, this urge to be an exceptional parent. I realized that in our world, it's almost impossible to be an ambitious woman and also be an exceptional parent. I wanted a space to have that conversation. I literally put out an Instagram post, and I asked women, how do you feel about being ambitious and also being a parent? The responses was really what kick-started what we know as Mother Honestly today.
Emily: What's the response that sticks out in your mind the most from that Instagram post?
Blessing: I think a lot of moms felt guilty. That was the number one response, they felt really guilty that they were ambitious. Some of them felt like, I'm I spending enough time my kids or I am not domestic enough, or I probably shouldn't be working as hard, or I probably shouldn't be going after my goals and my ambitions and my dreams and aspiration with as much vigor as I'm currently doing.
For those who felt like they weren't doing that right now, we had a lot of moms that were maybe stay-at-home parents, or they scaled back their careers. They were struggling with an identity crisis. They didn't exactly know how [unintelligible 00:03:08] in society. They felt like they couldn't relate to working mothers. They also felt like they couldn't relate to being the stay-at-home mother because these were women with Harvard MBA degrees. These were women who spent the whole career climbing the corporate ladder, and then taking a break or pausing their career to stay home. It felt really strange to them.
As we all know, when it comes to motherhood, it was a mixed bag of emotions that these women were essentially saying, hey, this is a lot, and we need support, we need a place to have this conversation and really hold ourselves true to our values. Because at the end of the day, we want to be fulfilled, we want to be healthy, fulfilled, and productive, so where can we have these honest and real conversations?
Emily: How does Mother Honestly enable that?
Blessing: We hold real conversation. We bring together [unintelligible 00:03:60] leaders professionals. We bring them together and have these conversations about work. What does it mean to be a working mother in today's society? What does it mean to share the parental load with our spouse? What does it mean to raise kids who are confident because we all know the statistics about dual-career couples and how they don't have enough time for their kids. A lot of our moms are worried about how the kids are going to turn out even though statistics have shown that kids of working parents actually do really well.
I think because the mom is just feeling guilty, she feels this urge to naturally worry about how the kids are going to turn out. We have a lot of these conversations. When the pandemic came along, we immediately responded with various conferences, various conversations. We had a daily virtual call with all of our moms where we basically just meet up for happy hour and talk about what's going on with our careers, what's going on with the home and the kids, and how we're staying safe.
We did that for about a month and a half and it felt really great because these women were scared to their bits because, A, we're in a pandemic, and B, were all trying to figure out what was going to happen to our career.
Emily: The pandemic has taken a huge hit on working women and working moms. 2.2 million of them have left the workforce. We know that one in four are considering downshifting their careers. It's a huge problem. I know it's something you've been talking about as you mentioned in your community. What are you hearing from women around their careers and their need to create change because of the pandemic?
Blessing: I think women are feeling like they're feeling. Things were already not so good right before COVID-19. We were in a situation where women are already struggling to combine work and family effectively. In the pandemic, and it's a different ball game for them. A lot of them are feeling like they're feeling. They have employers that have communicated to them that, "We're here to support you, take all the time you need," but at the same time, managers are under pressure to deliver results. Especially as we wrap up Q4 and going into a new year, we're starting to see a lot of moms getting antsy.
It's performance review season. We're hearing from moms about how they just don't know what to say. They're not sure if they're going to measure up. They have coworkers that are doing amazingly well in this pandemic while they are doing the complete opposite because they're trying to juggle work and family. Statistics shows that women are spending 65 to 72 hours a week, on household chores. That is already two full-time jobs added to another full-time job. Women are actually working three full-time jobs per week.
Emily: I'm sure a lot of the working mothers listening to this right now can relate.
Blessing: Absolutely. All of that is really creating this feeling of, "I'm not good enough. I'm not doing well at home. I am not doing well at work. I am not doing well in my own personal life." Again, these women don't have time. They don't have time to really point to their relationships as a result of trying to be multiple things at the same time. One of the things that really stuck out to us is that these women actually feel lonely.
Again, before the pandemic, we were at least going out. We take our kids to sports games and we do all these different things that made us feel like we were part of a community, part of a society and that is no longer there. It's been real. It's been really real for working mothers and I hope that for every mom listening to this, you are not alone. I think that's the biggest thing, is that we're all going through this and we're all going to come out of this stronger, I hope. The crisis is very challenging for our careers, it's very challenging for our marriage if we are in one or even our relationship and our kids. I think the biggest thing right now is for us to stay alive and stay well.
Emily: One of the digital conferences that you held a few weeks ago was The Caregiving and Work Summit. You talked to thought leaders and experts and employers. I would love to hear from you what employers are saying right now about this crisis because as you mentioned, I think that there's a major gap between what employees are feeling and how they're feeling supported and how employers think that they are supporting their employees.
Blessing: The problem we're having with employers and I'm going to be very honest because we hold these conversations almost on a weekly basis on our social media pages. We ask women, what are you going through? The biggest thing is that employers are really trying to get a lot done during this pandemic. Just to give an example, when the pandemic started, the main theme, because everybody was struggling, the employers were trying to figure out what was happening. They said, "Take your time. We'll get back to things." As soon as it seemed like remote work was working, employers really started to enforce some rigid deadlines and frequent meetings.
I don't know if you've been through this, but a lot of our moms were having meetings back to back to back. We had moms getting fired from left, right, and center because they were not able to meet up to those expectations. Employers were not acknowledging the additional anxieties and demands the childcare placed on working parents. Employers started rewarding non-working parents as a result. We started forcing women out of the workforce and I think that's exactly the number you quoted about 2.2 million women. I think it's 1.6 of that 2.2 that is actually working mothers, so a huge, huge percentage there.
What we're hearing is that employers, they've run out of patience and so they are now trying to make up time. Another reason why that number became high was the returns of virtual school and the fact that it dawned on moms that this is not a temporary thing, this is probably going to be the entire school year. We made a decision as a society that men were going to remain at work and women were going to remain at home.
That's why we saw those numbers. Is that moms were having conversations with their spouses, and they were saying, "Hey, who do you think should stay home?" Naturally, whoever has the lower-income stays home. Women, which historically, we have been unfairly paid, their careers was the one on the chopping block. What we're seeing is it is a combination of the same things.
I don't think it's necessarily 100% an employer issue, it's almost a society issue. We still had parental leave that is still a huge issue in this country, child care policy is nowhere near where it should be and we also have that equity pay gap. All of those things, including the inability of some men to take on their own shared responsibilities at home. We have these four huge issues that basically came together as a force to push women out of the workforce due to the pandemic.
Emily: We know that a lot of women do take on the majority of the caregiving responsibilities, and they do try and hide it from their employers because they don't want to be harshly criticized for having caregiving responsibilities along with trying to balance their full-time job. It's frankly very hard to hide right now. Your child's running through your Zoom call in the background, someone's yelling or throwing a tantrum. At the end of the day, hopefully, this is ultimately a good thing because it builds awareness and empathy.
Our co-workers and our managers are now getting really a real-time glimpse into our lives and frankly, the chaos that's around us. Do you think employers and managers are starting to have more empathy and what are some positive stories that you've heard from women about how childcare is starting to become normalized at the workplace?
Blessing: Absolutely. I think we're starting to see some employers, we're starting to see them have conversations. I think that was the biggest thing, was that initially, employers didn't have the time to really have that conversation. As we started hosting things like the caregiving and who works on it and we started reaching out to employers, we found out that employers were willing, at least some of them were willing to host these conversations with their employees. The reason these conversations need to be had was because there isn't a one size fits all solution to the situation that we're all in.
For example, I may have a spouse that is willing to share the workload, so my problems are completely different from a mom who doesn't have that. We're finding that some moms are saying, "Hey, what I need is a babysitter," and then some people are saying, "No, I'm not going to be able to bring someone into my house, because my comfort level for safety is extremely high. I cannot be exposed, I have a diabetic kid or have pre-existing conditions."
There's so many reasons why there aren't one-size-fits-all solutions, which is why the word you just mentioned, empathy, is really key to managers and employers in supporting their working parents. We started seeing some employers having that discussion and really trying to understand what that particular employee needs. Solutions started looking like a sustainable workload, solutions started looking like a flexible working hours. Even sometimes you need to be flexible on flexibility, creating a body system or putting together a parental policy, or saying, "Hey, let's take Fridays off."
Those solutions started coming about as employers started having these discussions with their employees. We also saw some employers like Google, provide paid leave to the employees saying, "Hey, you can take 12 weeks off." We had a few moms take those 12 weeks. A lot of them were worried in the beginning but we started encouraging these moms saying, "Hey, you need to take your paid leave. If you've been given one, you need to take it."
I think what started happening was also that men started taking that leaves. When we started seeing some participation from men, it became really clear that the stigma of not always wanting to put work first, those things, probably in this pandemic, may not be as high. We started seeing that managers were becoming much more flexible and empathetic towards their employees.
Emily: I have to say it's perfect timing that your baby was crying in the background, and you masterfully kept going. It just shows how we've adapted to this new reality. I appreciate it and I hope that everything's okay over there. [chuckles]
Blessing: [unintelligible 00:15:09]. I hope we are [unintelligible 00:15:12] okay. [unintelligible 00:15:13]. I've actually joked that I have a teenager, I have a toddler, I have a baby and now I just need to become pregnant so that I can actually experience the full spectrum of parenting during this time then.
Emily: You are a super mom. You just shared a lot of great ideas on how employers can support their employees better during this time. Do you have any advice and have you've shared any advice with your community of working moms around how they can better advocate for the support that they need without feeling like they're going to get penalized for it?
Blessing: That has been really tough. I am going to be 100% real, it has been really tough because that is usually one of our biggest pushback when we say, "Hey, some companies are providing backup care for the employees. Why don't you take this back to your employer and see if you know if it sticks?" The resounding response is that we don't want to be seen as needy, we don't want to be seen as you really need that to actually do your work. I don't see people asking for that.
Moms are very, very reluctant to take solutions back to employers and it's funny because a lot of companies grow that way. Moms learn about them and they talk to their friends about it. That's how it grows. We're seeing the complete opposite happening here, is that a lot of solutions have been created by caregivers in caregiving organizations and companies and startups. We've seen pods, micro scores, we've seen all these different things that employers are asking questions saying, "What can we give back to employees? What can we really do?"
Employees are not exactly forthcoming with saying, "Hey, yes, that works. We would really love that," despite the fact that they're suffering. Moms are reluctant, employers are wondering what exactly is the real solution. I think it comes back to employers really need to be the one to host these conversations, whether it's through parent groups, ERG formation or it's basically a survey. It all comes back to the employer because unfortunately, moms don't want to be the one on the chopping block. They don't want to be the one seen as incompetent or needing all these resources in order to get their work done.
Emily: Are you ultimately optimistic that after all of this, we're going to come out stronger with supporting working families?
Blessing: [sighs] I think that we will.
Emily: That sigh doesn't sound good.
Blessing: [laughs] It's very hard. The biggest thing is, I think, what is painful, is that we've seen all these penalties, all these penalties for speaking up, these penalties for wanting to be with our kids more, these penalties for requested flexibility, these repercussions for being that mom or dad that says, "Hey, I have to leave at three o'clock," or, "I can't make that Zoom meeting at twelve because it's lunchtime," or, "It's time that I breastfeed my kids."
I would like to say that I'm hopeful, but I think that we still have a long way to go, whether it's providing unlimited sick leave, whether it's providing paid parental leave or backup childcare for moms, or extending paid leave that you already have to say, "Hey, we know it's a pandemic. Maybe you get an additional four weeks or maybe you get childcare options that can really help you during this unprecedented time." Women are going through a lot and dads are going through a lot.
It's really stressful as a caregiver in 2020 and 2021 is not looking brighter either, but I think the biggest thing that we'll learn from this is that care is absolutely important. We've seen that through 2020 and I hope that as we go into 2021, employers can really sit down and say, "How can we be part of the solution? How can we create a system that works for working parents and works for caregivers?" Not just working parents because I think that we also have moms that are saying, "Hey, I have a parent that really needs support during this pandemic."
We have the sandwich generation that are also been slammed on both ends. I'm hopeful that because of the pandemic, companies are going to go into 2021 with a conviction that they really need to set up a program for caregivers within the organization.
Emily: I love that. Blessing, thank you so much. You are spearheading such an important community of women and they're all very lucky to have you supporting them right now. Is there a way for other women to get involved?
Blessing: Absolutely. We have a lot of wonderful things coming up. We have an app where we want to host these conversations away from all the prying eyes and social media. We have a conference coming up in January as we go into 2021 really trying to understand what it means to be working parents in this new era.
Emily: Blessing, again, thank you so much. I really enjoyed our conversation.
Blessing: Thank you.
Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of Equal Parts. See you next time.
Emily: Wait, before you go. I just want to tell you a little bit about Care@Work by Care.com. They work with some of the world's largest companies to offer family care benefits to their employees. If you're one of the lucky ones who already has care benefits at work, use them. If you don't, ask for them. It's a real lifesaver. To learn more, visit care.com/care at work. Again, that's care.com/care at work.