#45: Working Parents during COVID - Leverage Their Value with Dr. Dana Sumpter


Conscious leaders strive to learn about how we can better manage, lead, influence, and support our teams, our colleagues, and ourselves, and how we can best lead, especially through crises or change such as COVID-19. In this episode, we speak with Dr. Dana Sumpter about a leverage-point that has great relevance for any manager in the workforce. In particular, we will be focusing on one of the most valuable and essential segments of the workforce – parents.

There's a lot of evidence that especially in this COVID era, with the shutdown of schools, working parents are feeling the pressure and scarcity of resources. They are a misunderstood group. Collectively as a society, and as leaders, in particular, we have a shared responsibility to better understand what this group is going through, and to understand what we can do to challenge the system, to create the change we want, and to stand for reformations, acceptance, and empathy, and how can we reorganize ourselves in a way that is creative and from above the line. 

In this episode, we talk about specific tactical recommendations for both parents and leaders of working parents to maximize growth, improve communication, increase support, and optimize productivity, especially in remote working and remote learning environments. 

You may be one of those who is needing to be better understood, better supported, or you may be not part of this demographic segment and yet it's very important that we better understand what they're going through right now so that we can move into a place of greater awareness and we can make conscious choices as leaders about how we might adapt our approach to be more in service of that to which we are most deeply committed.

  • 12:09 - Meet Dr. Dana Sumpter


  • 15:49 - Gender inequity in academia and women getting the proverbial second shift through playing the role of house manager.


  • 24:48 - It is vital for managers to identify the difference between performance issues and situational challenges faced by external circumstances such as COVID-19. The cognitive load that is required for parents is increasingly overloading in work from home environments. It is very simple to fall into a "below the line" victimhood role in these situations.


  • 34:49 - Employers and managers have a great opportunity right now to leverage one of the largest demographics in the workforce.


  • 46:19 - Being aware of benevolent sexism and stereotypes is vital at this moment for managers in order to make sure we are supporting our employees while simultaneously not disempowering them. Also in a time of job security crisis managers have the opportunity to communicate job security and help avoid overwork and burnout that results in this anxiety.


  • 54:59 - We are in a vital and empowering time of post-traumatic growth with new opportunities and creative ways to move forward if we choose to be open-minded and flexible.


More findings from Dana's Current Study:

Research Project on the Experiences of Working Mothers during COVID-19

Principal Investigators: Drs. Dana Sumpter and Mona Zanhour

For our study, we conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 51 women. These participants are all over the age of 18, working from home, have a male spouse/partner, and have at least one child under the age of 12. These interviews were all conducted between June and August 2020.  

The interview questions asked about the women’s family/home and work/job responsibilities, before and during the pandemic; how they navigated these responsibilities with their partner; how they perceive their employer’s support of working parent employees, if they intend to leave their job or reduce hours, and what they envision of their work/family choices in the months ahead. 

We inductively captured their stories, experiences, explanations, and feelings about these and related topics.  Through our data collection, we added questions related to the differing phases of the pandemic (i.e., comparing the early March/April months to the more recent summer months), the physical work space at home, work productivity amidst interruptions, and also more detailed questions about the partner’s job responsibilities and schedule. 

Emergent findings include: 



For working moms:


1.      We have compiled a list of best practices for working at home -- with kids

2.      A mental health crisis is brewing, as women have taken on the impossible by wearing all of the hats, and managing work and family responsibilities with unprecedented expectations.  We’ve compiled a list of ways that working moms have engaged in self-care, some effects of not doing so, and how employers/managers can help support employees to prioritize their self-care. 

3.      There have been changes during the phases of this pandemic.  How working moms have experienced the pandemic has evolved over time; we observed differences between the immediate thrust of March/April, compared to the spring semester/school year to the summer months. This point in time can be used to proactively shape what the upcoming fall will be, and how women can be empowered to adjust their work/family choices in the months to come. 

4.      Many of our participants have expressed holding high expectations or standards for themselves, in how they manage their households and/or how they perform in their jobs remotely. These expectations were often high at first when the pandemic started, but lowered over time; in some cases they were used to shape “who did what” around the house and with the kids; and in many cases having too high of expectations was associated with stress and burnout. 

5.      Lack of segmentation (vs integration); that we used to work at work, but now work and home are inextricably linked. This can be stressful or overwhelming when we cannot separate the two domains. We have captured stories and examples of women who found this an immense struggle, as well as the ways that some women have made it work for them. 

6.      After trauma can come post-traumatic growth. This time has elevated the opportunity for women to reflect on making a change in direction, taking a pulse check, or reevaluation of priorities (personal and professional). What have I learned from this experience, and how can this learning shape my decisions going forward?  How can I make needed changes or capitalize on opportunities?  

7.      Every single participant has expressed recognition of some form of silver linings that have come from this experience. Some have even expressed optimism that the next chapter will be even better.  There were so many inspirational silver linings offered up, and attitudes of gratitude even during an impossibly difficult period of time.  Our compilation of ‘silver linings’ is inspirational.

For how working moms navigate work/family choices with their partner

  1. We have observed a common ‘baby hot potato’ effect, where two parents trade off who watches kids vs. who gets to work. These conversations and patterns have caused stress and imbalance. Often lack of schedule or predictability, or lack of employer support, exacerbates this.  Whose job wins?  If mom and dad both have to work, who gets to work, and who attends to the kids/home?  How these decisions were made was shaped by a variety of interesting factors. 
  2. We noted a trend of path dependency of family roles and responsibilities, such that ‘who did what’ before the pandemic tended to linger during the pandemic, even though other responsibilities (such as not have external household help or work demand intensification) changed.  This is a time for women to re-evaluate their work/family responsibilities with their partners, determine what is not working, and re-negotiate ‘who does what’. We have captured examples of how some women have done this successfully.
  3. This time has led to a significant walking back of advancement beyond gender roles. That is, we thought we had made progress about no relying on women for domestic work, but this pandemic has revealed just how fragile that progress was. There has been much media attention on the impact of this pandemic on women’s well being and careers; we have many stories that show the contours of this phenomenon. Men and women should be more aware of how we go into default mode of deciding ‘who does what’ that is based on our stereotypes, when there is uncertainty or stress. 



For employers and managers:


1.  Flexibility is complex. Flexible work options can be a helpful form of support, but they also can lead to other challenges, such as lack of segmentation (separating work from home, and home from work), not having an optimal physical or aesthetic work space, or leading to burnout, due to ‘never signing off’. Employers also need to realize that many employees highly value flexible work options, and that they should be continued to be offered (in many or most cases) for as long as possible, if not indefinitely. Leaders also need to walk the talk with flexibility; if the practices are there but leaders don’t support or model them, they won’t get utilized. 

2.  Job security matters a lot in how employees and employers are responding to the crisis. Employees who worry about job security often engage in unhealthy overwork to prove productivity while working remotely. Layoffs and general economic uncertainty mean that employers need to communicate with their folks, let them know where they stand, and be clear in how they are responding to these crises. 

3  Managers need to continue being empathetic and compassionate.  Employees are suffering, under stress, facing fear and uncertainty, and/or are in pain during this time.  We’ve captured a series of examples in how managers demonstrating empathy has helped our participants and engendered loyalty and commitment; we’ve also captured examples of the opposite. We have also associated empathy and support with turnover intent. 

Caneel AllowedPodcast Logo Mauve

Subscribe & Review on iTunes

Are you subscribed to the show?

If you’re not, be sure and do that today. I don’t want you to miss an episode or bonus, and if you aren't subscribed, there’s a good chance you’ll miss out on those. Click here to subscribe in iTunes!


It would also really help me out if you would take a minute to leave a rating and review over on iTunes, so I can broaden my reach and my ability to help others. It's really easy too! Just click here to review, select “Ratings and Reviews” and “Write a Review” and let me know what your favorite topic we cover is, and what your favorite part of the show is. I'd love your feedback on topics you're interested in for future episodes, and love hearing your overall thoughts on the show. Thank you!

About Forward Fearless:

Join the Forward Fearless coaching program 2021 session waiting list now so you don't miss your chance to be a part of this life-changing program.  I'm here for you, and I love getting the chance to interact and grow with each one of you.