How Working Mothers Can Flip the Script on COVID at Work
In January 2020, I received the biggest news of my career: I was promoted to head of resource management for my company, one of the top 10 CPA consulting firms. This was a goal I had worked tirelessly towards for years, and it seemed unreal when it was finally realized. This would be my time.
Four weeks later, I found out that I was pregnant for the second time. I now remember, somewhat ridiculously, thinking that the toughest challenge was going to be dealing with an infant and toddler professionally while taking on my new role.
When the pandemic first broke out, I had no idea what impact the next 18 months would have on me, both professionally and personally. But when I get out of the fog, I can seriously say that I wouldn’t change anything. COVID has accelerated my career in ways I still discover. Yes, the dark cloud of this pandemic brought challenges and tragedies that cannot be undermined – but it also opened up opportunities for working parents to develop critical leadership skills more quickly.
Those who became parents through the pandemic had an incredibly humiliating experience. A departure from the pursuit of being the perfect Pinterest mom, parenting culture now thrives on making fun of failures and taking challenges lightly – and we know there is no shortage of that.
There is a sense of community in the recognition of shared experience at a time when there was no social interaction. The “I can do everything” mother has evolved into a much more relatable woman who admits, without apology, “I’m a mother, I can’t do anything. I am not ashamed of it, by the way! ”The power in this level of self-awareness is invigorating.
How can this be transferred to the workplace? Working parents have learned to assess a situation quickly and to share their skills openly. If something is not realistic, they will tell you in advance. That kind of authenticity was more difficult to achieve before the pandemic when the norm was to keep appearances at all costs. Parents on Zoom calls one after the other with children running amok in the background simply don’t have time to maintain a facade. They lead by example, ask for help when they need it, and demonstrate vulnerability. What has historically been viewed as weakness is in reality a sign of strength and true guidance.
Any parent who has worked remotely during the pandemic can take a time or two when their children are challenging in the middle of an important presentation or meeting. But what they don’t usually attribute to themselves is the fact that they haven’t stalled. With each interruption, distraction, or frustration, these parents became a little more resilient. From experience, if your 2-year-old empties an entire container of sprinkles, paints a mural on your white wall, or tries to change his or her own diaper while presenting in front of over 800 spectators, you are unlikely to be bothered by anything else. The ability to keep your head in the game is an art form that we parents have mastered, and it’s an incredibly desirable trait in almost every field.
Think of the birthday caravan parades that became popular in the COVID era. I don’t know who came up with it first, but I’m sure it was a parent! They invented a creative way to celebrate their little one when circumstances made traditional methods impossible. That’s the ingenuity of this parenting group – we were thrown into an impossible situation and despite all odds, found a way to make it happen. If you take this idea and implement it in the workplace, the impact of a business leader with this mindset is enormous. This is someone who knows how to get creative about solving complex problems, motivating and keeping others busy. They will no doubt be able to foster retention within their organizations.
Working parents had to make a myriad of difficult decisions, all of which were of great importance. Things like: Should I allow my parents to meet my newborn? Will I be able to do my job if I don’t send my child to daycare and risk being exposed to the virus? Which family members should I be in quarantine with?
In my immediate bladder I had more than one immunocompromised individual while I was pregnant even during a surge in local cases. We had to make incredibly tough decisions about how to live our lives – but my experience wasn’t unique. All working parents had to take calculated risks under enormous stress during the pandemic.
We haven’t had the luxury of stability or reassurance, whether it be with the ever-evolving guidance on the virus or with our children struggling with their own reactions to a lack of routine. These things together have created a really challenging situation with no defined end date and certainly without any interruptions. Parents just didn’t spend energy on things that weren’t in line with our priorities. In the work context, this way of thinking has an enormously positive influence on productivity and efficiency. With the development of this new muscle memory, working parents are incredibly well positioned to be crucial leaders.
The seemingly endless hamster wheel of physical, cognitive, and emotional exhaustion that happened at the same time was brutal; there is no denying that. But as we walk through the home stretch, let’s not lose sight of the incredible tools that working parents have gained. What we are left with when this group emerges from the trenches is an army of well-trained soldiers who are masters of resilience, highly skilled in innovative thinking and determination under tremendous pressure; These are managers who know their limits and who own them. We are ready for any challenge that comes our way and will prevail, because after the pandemic we don’t know any other way. These are the people I would like to have in my organization when the time comes.
Christine Robinson is the Head of Resource Management at Baker Tilly, a top 10 CPA consultancy. As a working mom, Christine is passionate about celebrating diversity and empowering working parents. She has been featured in podcasts, LinkedInLive events, and at colleges to provide insight into the professional parenting experience and skill transfer in different settings.