Whether caring for young children, disabled adults, or elderly relatives, women traditionally bear more of the burden for caregiving than men. This discrepancy exists due to outdated stereotypes and implicit biases which can be damaging to women’s careers. AWIS believes that organization leaders must support all caregivers with flexible schedules and resources to help them succeed in both their professional and personal roles.
As a mother, I need flexible work hours and was not able to work overtime. I was passed over for important experiments. When COVID hit, I was given remote secretarial work instead of work in my field. I had nightmares and was depressed. I did speak to the lab manager who just brushed it over and nothing was done to rectify the situation. I finally left to preserve my mental and emotional wellbeing. Now I am starting over. – AWIS Member
Why must leaders support caregivers?
According to Harvard Business Review, 73% of employees have some form of current caregiving responsibilities. Whether an employee chooses to become a parent, has to adjust to a sudden caregiving role for a stricken relative, or is responsible for someone with an ongoing chronic illness, they are managing a significant workload on top of their paid employment. They need empathy and support from employers. Without employer accommodations, caregivers may leave the organization (and possibly paid employment altogether) causing the world to lose out on their innovation and discoveries.
Impacts on the caregiver
Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash
Primary caregivers are often unfairly perceived as less dedicated employees than their counterparts. As a result, they are offered fewer professional opportunities and are paid less.
In addition, caregiving duties can take an emotional and physical toll. These challenges may drive caregivers out of STEM fields.
Impacts on the organization
Caregivers bring a different perspective and can help drive innovation. Organizations that fail to offer the benefits and resources that caregivers need may have difficulty retaining talent. Finding and training new staff is both time consuming and costly.
Plus, employees who don’t feel supported could share this with their networks and damage your organization’s reputation. Those who are discriminated against may choose to file a lawsuit.
Impacts on society
Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash
Any talented professional lost from the scientific workforce is one too many! We need all available scientists to research, discover, and collaborate on solving the world’s most pressing problems and changing the world for the better.
The U.S. is at a disadvantage compared to other countries that mandate caregiving benefits like paid parental leave.
Actions for individuals
- Question your own biases toward caregivers and don’t make assumptions about them and their abilities or interests. [For example, invite them to happy hour or share information about conferences, promotions or other professional development opportunities.]
- Respect work-life boundaries and don’t judge anyone for leaving their desk to perform caregiving duties.
- Support caregivers you work with by asking how they are doing and listen to what they say.
- Recognize their challenges and offer advice, help them find solutions, or volunteer your assistance.
- Be kind, honest, and understanding.
Actions for HR/leaders
- Understand how many of your employees have caregiving responsibilities and ask them what support they need
- Offer flexible schedules, family medical leave, and paid parental leave for birth or adoption, but more importantly, create a culture where taking leave is accepted and expected
- Provide onsite childcare and lactation rooms
- Provide counseling benefits and resource groups
- Create policies and communicate how PTO can be used
- Train managers on how to eliminate biases from hiring, salaries, advancement, and performance evaluations
- Review this full toolkit for more ideas from biasinterrupters.org
Blending motherhood and your career
Deciding if and when to have children can be challenging for women in STEM professions. Many mothers have encountered bias and outdated expectations:
- 44% of mothers have their competence questioned vs. 13% of fathers (MothersInSci)
- The gender wage gap expands after 30 due to the motherhood penalty (Pew Research)
- One study found that 43% of women leave full-time STEM employment after the birth or adoption of their first child.
- Women with young kids were more likely than fathers to have quit their jobs during the pandemic (UCL).
For these reasons, some women may choose to focus primarily on their scientific careers, while others choose to delay starting a family until educational or professional milestones are met.
Read more about The Unequal Impact of Parenthood in Academia (AAAS) or watch this AWIS webinar replay with MothersInSci to learn more about the barriers that drive mothers out of the STEM workforce. The webinar also discusses solutions to help close the gender gap in STEM.
Forbes reported, “When Google increased its leave policy from 12 to 18 weeks, the rate at which new mothers quit was cut in half. Furthermore, other companies reported that by doubling their leave from 8 to 16 weeks, the turnover rate for new mothers fell 40%.”
On a systemic level, the U.S. Department of Labor suggests, “By creating a national paid family and medical leave program, increasing the size of the country’s care work infrastructure, improving benefits and wages so that the care workforce can support their own families, and implementing tax credits and financial supplements with historic potential for reducing child poverty, these plans will create long-overdue supports so parents won’t have to choose between caring for the families they love, and keeping their jobs.”
Caring for disabled adults or elders
The vast majority (70-80%) of impaired elderly are cared for by a family member — with 57-81% of these unpaid caregivers being women. (World Journal of Psychiatry) Most elderly requiring care are chronically ill with diagnoses such as dementia, bipolar, anxiety disorders, or severe cognitive impairment. Caring for someone who is chronically ill or functionally impaired can be emotionally draining for the caregiver.
Here are some resources that may be useful:
Be part of the solution!
Share what your organization does to support caregivers so we can add more advice and tools to help create more inclusive organizational systems and cultures.
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© 2022 Association for Women in Science. All Rights Reserved.