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The Value of Working Parents During Covid-19

Image S1E45 Working Parents during Covid Leverage their value with Dr. Dana Sumpter


I’m ALWAYS curious about what we, as conscious leaders, can learn about how to better manage, lead, influence, and support our team. No time has this curiosity been more than important than now in a period of crisis and change. 

It’s time to focus on one of the most valuable and essential segments of the workforce.

This may apply to you. 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, very important that we better understand what they’re going through right now, and that we can move into a place of greater awareness so that we can make conscious choices as leaders, and we can make choices about how we might adapt our approach to be more in service of that to which we are most deeply committed, whatever your values are. 

In any social system, there are power dynamics. This is the nature of organizations. There are many different forms of power. This group is a misunderstood and often oppressed group. They are a group that is more prone to suffering right now by no fault of their own. 

As a society and as leaders, in particular, I believe that we have a shared responsibility to better understand what this group is going through, and to understand what can you do to challenge the system, create the change you want, and stand for reformations and acceptance and empathy, and reorganize yourself in a way that is creative and from above the line that leads the kind of change you want. 

The group we’re talking about is working parents. 

Whether you have children or lead people who do, it’s important to understand what working parents go through and how best to lead them to success. 

Dr. Dana Sumpter joined me on Allowed: Conscious Leadership and Personal Growth.  Dana is an associate professor of organizational theory and management at Pepperdine University.  Her newest project is researching the experiences of working mothers during Covid-19.

That has been exacerbated during this time when our work domain and home domain have been necessarily integrated. We can’t separate the stuff anymore because we’re working from home, our kids very likely are going to be in and out, are going to be a part of the picture, a part of the Zoom call, and so on. 

And so the point is that it has different implications for the perceptions of the capabilities of members as women.

Where I’ve heard a lot of challenges from my participants that not only limit their ability to do their jobs well, but also I think inhibit their commitments, and perhaps future tenure with their employer, is when they don’t get that understanding. 

If for example, they have… I just spoke with a woman earlier this week who is a manager who does not have kids. And she felt like they just did not understand where she was coming from. And that she could not… she had to work so hard to mask, to hide, that aspect of her identity. And that not only made her feel like she couldn’t be her full self to her employer, that she had to hide what she was going through at home from her manager. 

She had a 12-year-old son who needed help with school. And she was like, “I always had to make sure it wasn’t a part of the Zoom calls I was on because I didn’t want to be judged if I was looked at as having to help my son while I was doing my job.” That’s stressful. Not only is that stressful, that entails cognitive load, meaning I have less of my cognitive resources to devote to my job because I have to hide this part of myself as I engage in my work virtually. 

During the pandemic, many working parents have been faced with resources being taken away.  It has been a struggle for many families to find a balance working with children at home. 

Supporting Your Team

It behooves managers to really listen to their employees, especially if they themselves have not walked in their shoes. This empathy should expand past working moms and working parents. 

There are all kinds of crises going on now. So maybe it’s suffering from some aspect of the economic downturn, maybe it’s the spouse has lost a job, maybe they’ve lost a loved one to this pandemic, whatever it is. People are going through different forms of pain right now. 

The most impactful managers are those that are able to acknowledge that their teams are humans with human experiences and emotions, who can give space so that employees feel comfortable talking about it, and figure out ways to accommodate and support what their employees need.

Self Compassion

Remember to have some self-compassion and give yourself the grace to realize you are going to fly off the handle, you are going to have off days, and that’s okay. The value is learning from it, trying to reflect on maybe what may have caused it, and trying to do better the next day. 

Whether it’s physical, behavioral, or feelings, there’s a mental health crisis brewing that we are not paying enough attention to. The vast majority of working mothers describe effects of sleep deprivation, emotional instability, anxiety, and depression. It’s a culmination of little things. You start acting in ways that you don’t typically. You don’t normally snap at your kids like this but it’s happening now.  You are reacting to the situation, to the stress, to the very long-term kind of anxiety that we’re going through with all this. 

So you’ve got to just listen to those changes, pay attention to those changes, recognize when we need to, maybe, cut back or say no, or make changes to how we go about our lives every day. So maybe that means saying no to some new project, which we’re bummed about because we want to take advantage of every opportunity, but really we can only handle so much at this time. Maybe that means prioritizing self-care more than we usually do. We working moms tend to be really bad at that. We’re always last on the list in terms of whose needs are taken care of. 

It’s that famous analogy of, if you’re in an airplane, put your own oxygen mask on first, because then you have the capacity to be able to take care of everyone around you. 

And for managers, that means helping their employees to do that. Because maybe they don’t recognize for themselves why they are not performing as they once did or why they’re not able to manage their schedules with the efficiency that they were once able to. 

Compassionate Leadership

We all need to be checking in on each other these days, personally, professionally, and everywhere in between. Because it’s all intertwined now. There’s no separation anymore. We’re working from home, our family is home, home is work. It’s all intertwined.

And I know there are many managers who are uncomfortable with that. That’s not everyone’s comfort level. Many managers don’t want to get into the personal stuff. They just want to stick to business. 

That’s behind us. That is no longer an option. We have to get personal. We have to understand where each other are coming from because we all are going through some form of pain or trauma these days. 

Check in on your employees, ask them how they’re doing, and ask if there’s anything you can do to help support them. Maybe there’s nothing you can do, but at the very least, the act of asking will signal to them that you care. And that can go a long way these days. 

What happens to us at work, we bring that home with us, what happens to us at home, we bring that to work with us. That was always true. And it’s especially true now when work is home and home is work. Managers need to reckon with and acknowledge that you have to, to some extent, be aware of your employees’ personal lives. 

The manager-managing relationship is special, and there’s nobility in that relationship. There is a lot of responsibility associated with the role of being a manager because when you’re a people manager, you are affecting people’s lives. You’re not just affecting their jobs. It’s who they are as a person, it’s what they’re able to bring home to support themselves and their family. 

And that’s why it’s a stressful role, but also a tremendous opportunity to create a positive impact in someone’s life. 

Challenging Times Present an Opportunity For Growth

Upheaval can be ripe for change. We have been presented with an opportunity to think creatively about how we want to shape the workplace going forward. 

In the days that can be so fraught with stress and having a million things on the to-do list, there still are powerfully beneficial aspects and growth that we can derive from this. 

This is a time of change. This is a chance for us to flip the script with our careers, with how we negotiate day-to-day arrangements with our partners, and with how we approach parenting our children.

This opportunity for change is something that you can proactively drive. You don’t just have to react and let things unfold. You are in the driver’s seat with all this. The choices you make create the path forward. 

Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

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