Mona Zanhour

Stressed out.

Sleeping less.

Not taking care of themselves.

Working before the kids wake up for school.

Working after the kids go to bed.

Or quitting.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 865,000 women have left their jobs since September because of the pandemic and the fact that children are doing their schooling remotely.

That scenario got Cal State Long Beach business professor Mona Zanhour and colleague Pepperdine University professor Dana Sumpter curious as to what businesses were doing to support those employees who had to stay at home.

The answer is: not much, if anything.

In an article written for the Harvard Business Review titled “3 ways companies can retain working moms right now (during the pandemic),” the authors argue that human resources managers should be doing more to support women.

Based on 54 interviews with mothers who had children 12 years old and younger, the article provides employers with recommendations that can be implemented to help working mothers remain in the workforce and quell fears about the uncertainty of the current labor market. Also, by incorporating workplace compassion, morale can be improved significantly.

“Working moms are struggling in small businesses and big companies,” said Zanhour, who specializes in human resource management. "This topic is humbling. I’m having my first experiences trying to balance work and redesigning my classes for Zoom. And I have two kids who are going to Zoom school, too.”

Zanhour, who lives in Irvine, said she is hearing from a lot of her neighbors who are experiencing the same issues — gender equity and the workplace.

“We have to shed a light on those issues,” she said.

Many of the burdens brought on by the coronavirus have been shouldered by mothers, Zanhour said. In the wake of closing day care centers and schools, a disproportionate number of women have been affected compared to their male counterparts.

“Most of my participants shared that there was an absence of support from employers,” Zanhour said. She said employers have an intent to support parents, but that rarely translates into tangible support.

“For example, one participant asked her department to not hold meetings between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” she said, “but that never happened. Another person said there was no workplace culture created where people could ask for help.”

The authors have already received feedback — mostly from working mothers and HR department supervisors — concerning their article, which appeared in the magazine’s Nov. 12 issue.

“I appreciated the responses and the highlighting of the issues,” Zanhour said. “The HR professionals appreciated the tips. There are many who are sharing and noticing how COVID-19 is impacting employment.”

While they didn’t ask about household income in the initial survey, Zanhour did say the participants are middle class, have partners, and children 12 and younger.

The study also revealed that for the most part, work has gotten more intense and some managers seemed to be worried that people are actually working, especially if the at-home parent wasn’t responding to emails right away.

“Most organizations were not prepared to have employees working from home,” Zanhour said. “Sometimes managers are uncomfortable and don’t have the skills to lead a remote team.”

Employers can’t ignore that employees have a life beyond their jobs and that the line that separates work and home isn’t going away. Zanhour said she hopes the article will spark businesses to find solutions to support working mothers. She said it all starts with the policies of the organization.

“The pandemic really revealed the inequities of the absence of programs,” Zanhour said. “This will have an economic and social impact, and it’s my impression employers want to help but are not helping.”


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