Updated: Mar 31, 2021
We may still be debating if girls actually run the world (we’re looking at you, Beyoncé), but most of us agree that women are a vibrant and valued part of the workforce. Despite our general appreciation for women, female workers still routinely encounter gendered challenges in the workplace. One of these challenges has recently been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic: childcare responsibilities.
Childcare responsibilities and careers often clash with each other, requiring women to dedicate a lot of attention and foresight to balance both. This juggling act of having both children and a career is something any potential mother (and partners of potential mothers) must consider. If this description applies to you, take a look at these four things that you should know about balancing career and childcare responsibilities.
1) Know your partner and parenting options
It’s still a stark reality that women, especially in the United States, are disproportionately affected in the tug-of-war between family and work life. Women are still more likely to adjust their careers to family life than men—while also doing more housework and childcare, too. For you as an individual, it’s important to consider how you’d like to divide up household and childcare responsibilities. Will both of you work full-time? One of you part-time and the other full-time? There are a million possibilities, each as unique as each of us humans. Open yourself up to the possibilities of different options for childcare. What would work best for you, your situation, and your goals?
Quick tip: Make sure to talk to your partner about childcare responsibilities. What are both of your expectations about childcare? What options are available to you? Taking the time now to recognize and understand your underlying expectations now can save you and your partner lots of hard conversations later.
2) Know your workplace flexibility
Most mothers say that flexibility is the #1 factor impacting their career choices. If children suddenly become sick or need rides to soccer games or drama practices, mothers often need flexibility in their jobs in order to help out and spend time with their children. As a result, many mothers prioritize careers with flexible hours or careers that give them an ample amount of time to devote to their children. What kind of flexibility you might have will vary wildly depending on your career field and job position.
Quick tip: Keep in mind the hours and time commitments required by different job positions. Depending on your career and family life goals, consider which position in your career field would best fit your goals.
3) Know about maternity leave policies
Depending on which country you work in, maternity (or parental) leave may or may not be an issue. Some countries follow in the footsteps of Estonia, Bulgaria, and Japan, which give the most generous government-mandated paid maternity leave, granting mothers an average of 75 weeks of paid leave. On the tail end of things, countries like New Zealand, Switzerland, and Ireland clock in with an average of 7 weeks of paid leave. The United States is the definite worldwide loser for paid parental leave, limping into last place with a stunning average of 0 weeks of government-mandated paid leave. Beyond each country’s government-mandated leave, additional maternity leave policies may vary from company to company. Keep an eye on this as you’re courting potential employers.
Quick tip: Make sure you keep potential maternity leave in the back of your mind when considering your career options. Check on the maternity leave policies for the country that you work in, and look into your company’s maternity leave policies.
4) Know your childcare options
Nearly 80% of women with children agree that childcare is a strong influence on their decision to be or not to be a part of the paid workforce. This staggering statistic shows just how make-or-break childcare availability is for women. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many women are leaving the workplace—not because they want to—in order to care for their children, since many preschool, daycares, and aftercare programs have been temporarily shut down. The availability of childcare is an immeasurably important factor for women’s careers. Childcare considerations, even in a COVID-free world, should be a serious factor as you consider your career and employer choices.
Quick tip: Since many workplaces do not offer daycare, you should keep other alternatives in mind, such as community daycares, nannying, or other babysitting strategies. Depending on the age of the children, after-school programs or clubs may be another low-cost alternative to daycare.
So many women across the globe deftly manage their work-family balance every day—and you can, too. With these four tips about careers and children in mind, you can plan effectively to balance a career and childcare. It will take planning, forethought, and sacrifice to balance family and work, but it is possible. Who’s to say you can’t have it all? We live in a world that makes the impossible possible—why not for you, too? Let us know in the comments below what ways you and other women you look up to have balanced childcare and work, or how you plan to do so in the future!