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Practical Tips for Companies to Support Women and Parents in the COVID-19 Workplace

About the author: Darien Long is the Senior Regional Director of Sales at ALICE, working remotely in Texas. Darien has worked at ALICE for the past four years. In that time she has become an established Sales leader.

A month or so ago, I asked our HR team if I could write a blog article  about my experience as a mother and woman working at ALICE. As soon as they enthusiastically replied “yes”, I launched into writing what felt more like a journal of my four years at ALICE. 

The first draft covered everything from my first child being born within my first year of working at ALICE to my second being born smack-dab in the middle of a global pandemic and the hardest year for our industry to date. The draft felt dull. It didn’t really represent the weight of the burden and sacrifices that I wanted to convey, and it most definitely did not adequately explain the millions of details of how ALICE - the company, colleagues, and work-friends - have come together to support its working women and parents in the past 10 months. I scraped it and hoped the People team would forget that I ever suggested writing the article in the first place

Today, while eating  lunch at my desk in my home office and scrolling TikTok, I came across a creator I love, “TheCorporateMama.” In her sarcastic nature she referenced McKinsey’s Woman in the Workplace” article that was published in September 2020. I quickly set my phone down to google the article. The article starts with one of the biggest truth bombs:

 “In a year marked by crisis and uncertainty, corporate America is at a crossroads. The choices companies make today will have consequences on gender equality for decades to come.” 


I feel badly for women and parents who are struggling to hold it all together right now; I feel badly for those working in companies where their contribution is valued so little, and where the company puts forth zero effort to help accommodate them during one of the most difficult times in possibly their entire life. They deserve better.

The article goes on to say that “The Covid-19 crisis could set women back half a decade.” How do we prevent this from happening? How do we keep our heads above water and not just survive but thrive as working parents and women? I can’t say that I even come close to having all the answers, but one thing I know:  There are steps each of us can take in the right direction, that can keep all working female parents moving  forward. We have not been perfect at ALICE but having worked in other corporate environments, ALICE’s compassion and unapologetic priority of women and parents this year has been unparalleled to anything I have seen or witnessed in other organizations If there is one action I can take to keep gender equality moving forward during COVID-19, it’s to share what ALICE has done for me and my fellow female colleagues and working parents who struggled to survive this year. Here are some helpful tips in implementing a female/parent supportive culture:

 

1. Allow flexible schedules with unconventional work hours.

Being a mother with kids at home during the day unexpectedly is a challenge, especially with  small children. They are unable to entertain themselves and need constant oversight if you don’t want them to burn your house down by accident. Allow your teams to communicate on a weekly basis what their “office” hours will be and what after hours work will look like. This needs to be fluid. Things change and don’t throw shade on your team members when things change at the last minute.

2. Communicate effectively the jobs that need to be completed and the deadlines.

This allows your team members to have better time management in working during unpredictable times. They may not be able to get 8 hours of consecutive work in during the day, but know that as soon as they feed and bathe their children, they can get a solid two hours of uninterrupted work done. 

3. Give unlimited paid time off and set minimums each quarter!

Unlimited PTO is nothing new,  but people are reluctant to take time off when they can’t travel (due to COVID restrictions). Set minimums and review PTO taken frequently to ensure your teams use time off to recharge. At ALICE we review our teams’ PTO on a monthly basis. This helps us prevent burnout and allows Managers to encourage time off for our teams, especially when they need it.

4. Host group counseling sessions

Our Head of People, Lisa, is the best, honestly. One of the things she has done and continues to do is make our team’s mental health a priority. We have a licensed therapist who hosts virtual group sessions that we can join for free. One of the best sessions I attended was with three other colleagues who were all pregnant this year. We had major anxiety over COVID and hospital policy changes during our pregnancies. It was great to hear others experiencing the same fears in a safe setting and then learning how to manage those anxieties. We also host parent-specific sessions and various other topics routinely.

4. Don’t be annoyed by your colleagues’ kids.

Trust me in saying that as a parent you are hyper-aware of how annoying your own kids can be. Stack that with the weight of trying to work from home and complete a single task without being interrupted and I can assure you, your colleague is annoyed enough at their own kid, they don’t need your comments about it. Be empathetic and patient. Reschedule or communicate over email if finding a time doesn’t work. There will be times when kids will interrupt a video call. Sometimes it will be funny and sometimes not so funny but please don’t shame your colleagues. They are doing their best in a difficult time, often with limited childcare options or splitting virtual schooling time with their spouse, a grandparent etc.

5. Provide PAID Parental Leave.

You thought growing a company was hard, trying growing a human. There I said it. It can be expensive but what’s more costly is the loss of great talent when you permanently lose good employees to companies that have more robust parental leave policies.  Paid parental leave is a non-negotiable item for the majority of women when considering a career opportunity. It isn’t acceptable to not offer it and only highlights your lack of support for gender equality. At ALICE we have 12 weeks paid maternity leave, which I have used twice in 4 years. During my time I have been promoted on multiple occasions, and ALICE has not, for one second, held me back from growing my career and contribution because of my desire to have a family.

6. Buy them dinner

Due to COVID-related constraints on companies, most expense budgets are cut to practically zero but I’m sure you have some money set aside for employee recognition  and appreciation. One of the best ways you can support a parent is by having dinner delivered for their family. TRUST ME in saying the weight this lifts off your team member is immeasurable. When you notice they are buried up to their eyeballs, send them dinner. If dinner is not an option, find another way to lift their load at home, like allowing them to expense a one-time cleaning service. Rewarding your team isn’t always best served with a trophy. Give them something that lightens their load.

7. As leaders, we must have an empathetic mindset and be vigilant in recognizing the tired.

There are so many companies who have unlimited PTO but then when you request time off, it’s denied. Don’t be that manager. Better yet, be the leader who encourages your team, and forces them to take time off. Make it so that they CAN take off. They will be better for it. Encourage them to spend time with their children during waking hours, encourage them to get a good night’s rest, encourage them to exercise and stick to their goals. ENCOURAGE them to make time for themselves and prioritize their well being for the sake of being both a better parent and professional.

Having worked at ALICE for four years, I could give many more examples of how our leadership team and employees have implemented the eight bullet points above. I’m forever grateful for the support that has been shown to me this year and every year. ALICE has carried me through some of the toughest times and allowed me to continue to pursue and chase big dreams. Thank you!

If you are interested in being a part of our awesome culture at ALICE, please visit our career page for opportunities. 

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Darien Long

Senior Regional Director of Sales, ALICE

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