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Deloitte Exec Mom on 3 Ways Leaders Can Support Parents During Uncertain Back-to-School Season

It’s no secret that the pandemic has been especially challenging for working moms—in fact, a Deloitte Global survey found that 82 percent of US women feel their life has been disrupted by the pandemic, and 70 percent of those women are concerned their career growth will be limited as a result.

The good news is, many organizations have taken steps to provide some relief in the form of virtual work enhancements, dependent care support, well-being resources, and increased flexibility. The bad news is, yet another uncertain school year has created concerns that flexible scheduling and child care stipends may not be enough to keep a second wave of the “she-cession” at bay, as burnout and well-being challenges continue to rise. While organizational programs and policies are important, there’s something else just as crucial when it comes to helping moms thrive at work: creating a culture where women can communicate flexibility needs, courageously set boundaries, and invest in developing strong relationships.

When the only thing more unpredictable than your work calendar is your kid’s school schedule, even the most promising new policy may not feel like enough to get through the toughest days. However, the feeling of knowing you truly have the understanding and support of your team and leaders can make a big difference. Fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance is essential, and it’s leadership’s job to set the tone. Here are some ideas I try to keep in mind to help build a culture of inclusion and support for all professionals—and these approaches can be especially beneficial for working moms.

Unlearn Old Ways of Working

The hybrid, work-from-anywhere workforce is here to stay. That’s why it’s time to take a long, hard look at our old ways of working and identify areas where we can “unlearn” habits that, frankly, don’t hold up in most organizations today.
The 9-to-5 workday, as well as the rigid orthodoxy of ensuring employees are “on the clock” at certain times, are a thing of the past for many companies. Rather than offering working conditions that concentrate on specific working hours, now is the time to shift that mindset and become more results- and outcome-oriented. By focusing on employees’ results, you’re not only treating them as professionals who can be trusted to complete their work, but also enabling them to be flexible and schedule their work around the needs of their families and their lives. With school starting back up, the onus is on leaders to create a culture of inclusivity for all. In other words, it should no longer be a novelty when an employee needs to miss a meeting to attend a soccer game or virtual parent-teacher conference. By unlearning old ways of working, we can empower our employees to shift beyond work-life balance to work-life integration.

Speak Up About Change That Is Needed

Change only happens when we challenge the status quo, and that requires courage—especially from those in leadership positions. Having the courage to speak up about changes needed to support colleagues, whether it’s advocating for flexible scheduling or calling out proximity bias in performance evaluations, is an essential responsibility of a leader.

In my experience, courage usually occurs on three levels: first, it’s important to have courage with others by challenging them to understand the impact of their behaviors on their teams; second, leaders should have courage to confront long-held organizational constructs and attitudes that promote cultural sameness; finally, it’s imperative that you have the courage to speak about yourself to reveal your personal needs and requirements, as well as advocate for your personal impact. I believe courage is contagious; when others see you speaking up, you create an opportunity for those around you to do the same.

Give Yourself, and Others, Grace

A mantra I’ve come back to over the last 18 months that has helped tremendously with my well-being is to “give grace.” The pandemic has encouraged us to be more understanding of each other in authentic moments like the doorbell ringing for food delivery, dogs barking, or kids making an appearance on a video conference for help with homework. Having grace for one another deepens the human connection across the team and with the leaders. As a working mom and a leader at Deloitte, it’s my responsibility and a great privilege to show kindness and humor in these inevitable moments.

We all face our own difficulties at work, home and everywhere in between, but knowing there are leaders who understand and support working moms is an advantage in any challenge—whether it’s sharing an office (ahem, kitchen table) with your middle schooler who is learning remotely or returning to an ever-changing workplace after maternity leave. We’ve learned so much over the past year and a half, and now it’s time for us to put those lessons into action.

Kavitha Prabhakar is a principal and serves as the Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) leader for Deloitte US. She co-leads the Black Action Council for Deloitte, focused on architecting Deloitte’s long-term strategy to advance Black colleagues and communities by developing a culture of anti-racism for our people, firm, and our communities. Kavitha also co-leads the Executive Women in technology initiative for Deloitte’s CIO Program, focused on connecting women CIOs/CTOs.

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