More moms are working from home than ever before in history. Without child care and school, it’s been a struggle. But many are also realizing that pursuing their careers while being present with their kids has its benefits, too.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was rare: An estimated 7% of employers offered permanent work-from-home options. Today, mid-crisis, that number has exploded to 57%. While the transition was ugly and disruptive, employers are now warming up to the idea, and some are making work-from-home options permanent.
On a large scale, this shift would have dramatic impacts on the economy, the workforce, real estate, the environment, and more. It would also be a game changer for working moms.
Prior to the 1970s, many women were forced to choose between their families and their careers. Sue Ellen Browder was a newspaper writer with a degree from the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. In 1969, she was fired from the South Bay Daily Breeze, just outside Los Angeles, after her editors discovered she was pregnant.
Today, women no longer have to fear getting fired for being pregnant. The 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, among other measures, protects women from such abuse. Today, nearly 9 in 10 working women have access to family leave, many with paid benefits.
But even the most generous maternity leave policy doesn’t relieve women from one of the most difficult and consequential decisions she’ll ever make: taking a step back from her career to focus on raising her children or physically leaving her kids to work all day.
The effects of that choice are clear. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, birth rates in 2019 dropped to a 35-year low. Curiously, there was one anomaly in the statistics: More women in their 40s are giving birth, suggesting women want families — but they want stability in their careers, too.
What would happen to birthrates if women didn’t feel they had to choose between having children or a career? What would happen if women had the option of pursuing their career while at home raising their kids?
The pandemic has caught the emperor in no clothes. More accurately, it’s caught him in no pantsuit. Faced with no choice but to enable employees to work from home, the virus has exposed how unnecessary physical workspaces often are in the modern, technology-driven economy.
Earlier in May, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sent an email to staff, notifying both Twitter and Square employees that they can work from home for good.
“If our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen,” Dorsey said. “If not, our offices will be their warm and welcoming selves, with some additional precautions, when we feel it’s safe to return.”
Other tech companies, such as Facebook and Shopify, are following suit.
Working from home is a win for everyone involved. Companies save money, commutes are slashed, rural towns have the potential to be revitalized, women are encouraged to stay in the workforce, and employees have options. Offices don’t have to be scrapped for good, but they can be optional and used more efficiently.
As a new mom who left her office job for a fully remote workplace prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, I know first-hand that working from home isn’t as easy as it sounds. It can be isolating and still requires sacrifices, child care, and time away from the kids. However, it doesn’t have to be what so many parents are experiencing right now, with the added stress of homeschooling and limited child care.
Had it not been for the privilege of finding a flexible workplace, I would have been tempted to join the 43% of women in the United States who leave their jobs after having children. Instead, I found an organization that offers the best of both worlds. In 2020, these opportunities shouldn’t be so rare.
In her book, Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters, psychoanalyst Ericka Romisar writes about the importance of a mother being emotionally and physically present in the early years of her child’s life. For many mothers, the science is hard to hear: Being there during the first three years of life gives the child a greater chance of growing up emotionally healthy, happy, secure, and resilient.
Working from home wouldn’t only be beneficial to working parents and the children they raise. The benefits to society would pay off in dividends for future generations, with whom we’ll leave the world.
Before it was hijacked by the far-left, the feminist movement was about equipping and empowering women to pursue both a family and a career. It’s long past time we return to that and make permanent work-from-home options the new feminist frontier.
Not all work can be performed remotely, and women will still face many challenges in trying to balance competing goals, including work and family life. But the prospect of greater workplace flexibility is a silver lining to come from the COVID-19 crisis and one that could unite feminists from all sides. My only regret is that it took a global pandemic to get us here.
Kelsey Bolar is a senior policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum.