“When we portray opting out as a simple matter of "choice," we ignore the systematic problems that make combining work and motherhood so difficult.” – Emily Matchar, author
As we approach Mother’s Day, it is fitting to look at mothers’ contributions and explore the impact of the challenging, ever-evolving work and childcare landscape under COVID-19. With the wholesale impact of Covid-19 on women and girls, it’s time to boldly reframe our approach to supporting working mothers and parents.
A few days ago, Oxfam International released a report that revealed the COVID-19 cost for women as at least $800 billion in lost income in 2020, largely attributed to increased care responsibilities. Women are spending 7 hours more a week engaged in childcare than men. Perhaps it’s unsurprising then that 26% of mothers say they dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic due to lack of childcare. These issues are often intensified for single mothers, those from minority backgrounds and for mothers working in low-paying jobs.
In Hong Kong, about 12% of households rely on Foreign Domestic Workers to manage household responsibilities, who often perform the invaluable role of caregiver, many of whom are themselves parents and face their own challenges. This enables a greater proportion of mothers to enter into the workforce than would otherwise be possible, but it is not an option available to most families. In the workplace, we know there is a motherhood penalty and while we welcome updates next month to the discrimination ordinances that will strengthen protections for breastfeeding mothers against discrimination or victimisation, we must be bolder and broader and aim for a comprehensive infrastructure that supports working mothers and all parents.
The pandemic has given us the unique opportunity to leverage the visibility of work-family disconnect to push forward policies that contribute to an environment that enables parents, particularly mothers, to thrive at work. To do that, we must reframe our thinking to view childcare solutions as essential to business.
What does that look like?
Harvard Business Review proposes a range of recommendations: building a supportive work environment particularly peer-to-peer networks; comprehensive paid family leave and flexwork options, particularly ensuring these policies support parents with children from infanthood through to 18 years of age; offering childcare subsidies as employee benefits; and providing on-site or nearby childcare facilities.
Policies like these do more than just alleviate mental, time and resource pressures around childcare— they are also good for business. Research demonstrates that family-friendly policies such as childcare, flexwork, and paid leave enable companies to retain talent, boost productivity and increase profits.
At TWF, we advocate for many policies that benefit working parents, particularly mothers: gender neutral parental leave and flexible working among them. We encourage our Male Allies to share childcare and household responsibilities at home, and to openly discuss the importance of these actions at work.
Our economic recovery – both locally and globally – depends on the full participation of all of our available talent. Let’s value the vital role mothers, parents and carers serve in our society. We call on government, companies and institutions to boldly reframe how we support working parents. To action comprehensive infrastructure, legislation and programmes to support working mothers and parents including creative childcare solutions to enable them to be equal economic contributor.
Get in touch at Fiona.Nott@twfhk.org.