An Appeal to CEOs from a Working Mother During COVID-19
By Amber Jones, VP Sales + Education, Tangram Interiors
As a strong, working mother of two, I have proudly grown my career as I have grown my family. I‘ve dismissed the naysayers who said I couldn’t be a good mom plus a good executive, and I shrugged them off as I was promoted from salesperson to sales director to VP of Sales.
As proud as I am of how I’ve represented myself and all working mothers up to this point, I feel I must give voice to this population in another way now. I have never felt so bound up in my life as I do with the news that continues to roll out about COVID-19, and I would like to take the liberty of sharing my experience on behalf of the mothers of your organizations.
Coping with Unprecedented Change
Let me start at the beginning. I will admit that, when the pandemic began to shut down life as we knew it, I didn’t hate the idea of working at home with my kids “going to school” 10 feet from me. I didn’t even mind that my husband was still going to work every day and leaving me with the kids. To be honest, all this time spent with my kids was unprecedented due to my normal work schedule, and I welcomed the opportunity to bond with them.
I did what most moms started to do in March 2020. I sat down and created an adorable little whiteboard schedule that blocked off the day for my kids. It included schoolwork time, play time, lunch, reading, free play, etc. Did they follow it? Sure, for the first week. After that, not only did they not want the whiteboard, but I couldn’t think of enough new ideas to make the whiteboard plan sound remotely appealing to any of us.
As we slipped into April and May, I watched as my children slowly pulled away from reality and leaned hard into video games and Facetime. With only 90 minutes or so of schoolwork to do each day, it left them with 6+ hours to fill while I Zoomed my life away upstairs.
What did they do? They went into the Matrix and only came out for snack time. At eight and nine years old, I don’t blame my kids for wanting to play Fortnight and Roblux all day. And I can’t blame them for not being very good at knowing when it’s been too long on a device. At these ages, they shouldn’t be parenting themselves, but in 2020 I’m hard pressed to find someone who can parent them while I work.
Balancing Multiple Priorities
This year, it feels like the societal “norm” that was promised to parents for generations has been broken. We’re left cradling our dreams in our arms, forced to choose which ones are most important and which ones take precedent over the others. As I look down to see what I’m holding, I see these:
- My husband of 11 years and the job he loves that is out of the house
- My two children, their happiness, education and health
- My career that I love and have worked so hard at for over 13 years
- My sanity (really hoping not to lose this one)
- My happiness
School is about to restart, and I’m deeply concerned that what has gotten me through the last five months may not get me through the next five. I’m incredibly lucky to have a fabulous support system; not everyone in my position does. My kids have spent most of their summer break being away with different grandparents and aunts enjoying their time so I can focus on work. And while that’s been an okay system, I didn’t have kids for someone else to raise them. When I yearned for children, I had every intention of seeing them morning and night, being there for every milestone, heartbreak and joy, as I would imagine most parents intend. And while I appreciate the heck out of my family for their generous offers, I can’t imagine spending every week without my kids.
As the days progress and any hope of returning to life pre-pandemic is muddied, I’m beginning to realize that all those bullet-pointed dreams and priorities may not survive simultaneously. No matter how many games of Tetris I play with that list, I know that there is no way that I can fit more than three in the frame at once. Yesterday I heard an analogy that we are only in the bottom of the second inning of COVID in America, and my heart sank.
Building a Support System
So, ladies and gentlemen, we are stuck right smack in the middle of a rock and hard place, and something’s gotta give. I’m having a hard time figuring out which way to turn. I feel confused and frustrated a lot of the time, and that’s not who I am. And I know I’m not alone.
What concerns me most is that strong, working women like myself will be disproportionately affected. We have fought tirelessly for generations to claim our space in the workforce. But after all we’ve accomplished, I am seeing more and more women recoil back into their homes to bear the weight of childcare and become makeshift teachers.
Here is my ask to you, CEO.
I’ve shared my experience as well as a vulnerable side of me in hopes that I can give a voice to women who don’t feel they have one. I ask that you look around at the working mothers of your organizations and make sure that quitting isn’t on their mind. If it is, I ask that you lend an ear and carve out some time to craft sustainable solutions that will keep our workplaces diverse and our companies progressing into the future.
Some ideas might include fun activities for kids related to the business that could form the foundation for a future career interest, accommodation in scheduling to take care of the emotional and health needs of the children, a company-sponsored online community or forum for moms to share tips, experiences and concerns. Use your imagination, especially those of you who are parents.
Most importantly is a reminder to lead with empathy. Encourage open and frequent discussion with your staff about how this situation is affecting their lives (personal and professional). And, finally, offer some flexibility. We’ve all had to pivot our companies, so let’s enable our employees to pivot with us.
It’s imperative to acknowledge that, while we’re all in the same COVID storm, we are not all in the same boat. Everyone’s situation is unique, and it is crucial that you understand the waves that your people are riding as they navigate through 2020.
So, please, check in with your moms. They need you, and I’m sure you need them.
Sincerely and hopefully,
VP Sales + Education, Tangram Interiors
Amber Jones serves as Vice President of Sales and Education for Tangram Interiors which incorporates her expertise in sharing information, training and firsthand product knowledge as well as her passion for creating beautiful educational spaces. She believes that active learning environments will change the way teachers educate students and lead to improved student learning. Teaching students to collaborate and work in groups is no longer a preference, but a requirement, of the education system to produce students who are prepared for modern work environments.