“As a mom of color, I feel like there’s an expectation that we have to be strong... that we have to be resilient. And, while I agree with that to an extent, it’s exhausting being resilient all the time." (Werklabs Employee Voices: Moms of Color Report, Feb 2021)
This past year has been a challenging time for many moms. The pandemic has impacted our lives in so many ways and forced many to lose or be forced to leave their jobs due to young children being home instead of in classrooms. We’ve also had to face the systematic injustice of the racial inequalities that exist here in the U.S. Moms of color have been impacted especially during this pandemic, and as a result, companies, government, and each of us should think about ways we can better support working moms of color.
WerkLabs, the research and insights division of The Mom Project, conducted a study of over 1500 moms who self-identify as a person of color. to learn more about the work experiences of moms in 2020 amidst COVID-19 implications, heightened racial strife, and calls for action in the US. This research study’s aim was to learn how work during this difficult time may be experienced differently by moms of different races and ethnicities.
Their study uncovered the unique experiences felt by working moms of color during this difficult time and identified 8 key themes related to how moms of color are experiencing their workplaces. Those themes are: work schedule & flexibility, workload, organizational support, leadership, childcare, health and wellbeing, career advancement, and retention.
My personal journey
Even though I identify as a mom of color, I do not speak for all moms of color. I am aware of the privilege of my background and education. I have experienced both challenges and opportunities both as a mom and a person of color where sometimes those identities have intersected. I identify as a South Asian American woman because I grew up in a small rural town in Ohio. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mumbai, India before I was born and were one of very few ethnic families in the small town. I have childhood memories of people asking me “where am I from” even though I was born in Ohio or telling me my “English was surprisingly good” even though English was my first language, and I could barely speak my parent’s first language. Even as a child, I was aware that my brown skin color was different from everyone else around me.
It was not until I moved to NYC that I met others with similar experiences. It was important for me to raise my son here in a diverse city because I wanted him to have a different experience from mine. I thought that living in NYC would make me immune to feeling like an outsider but I was wrong when I entered the tech industry. I looked around me and noticed there were not that many moms of color around especially in leadership roles. Why is that? This past year has uncovered the racial inequalities at a systematic level that has contributed to this problem.
The impact of the pandemic for working moms of color
WerkLabs’s Moms of Color report revealed that a larger percentage of women of color left the workforce during the pandemic for various reasons. Of the women surveyed, 39% were laid off and 33% chose to permanently leave their job. Those numbers are quite significant as they demonstrate the devastating impact of the pandemic for working moms of color.
Over the past year, I experienced and observed the struggles of being a working mom juggling a full-time job with children at home needing support in their online schooling. As a single mom, I felt stressed if I had a meeting during my son’s 45-minute lunch break, trying to plan ahead so he would have food in time. He often ended up eating lunch in his bedroom, next to his computer, as I ran a Zoom meeting in the living room. Luckily, my son was older but I don’t know what I would have done if I had younger and/or multiple children to manage. It’s not a surprise that 33% of the moms surveyed in this study chose to leave their jobs.
In that same study, 61% moms of color (which included Black/African American, Asian American and Hispanic/Latinx moms), and 12% White moms reported that they left an employer during the pandemic. These numbers are troubling and indicate that women of color were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and job loss. With schools being remote and the lack of available childcare during the pandemic, I heard of many moms struggling with holding on to their jobs while taking care of their families. The proportion of moms of color compared to white moms who left their job as indicated by this report reveals that racial inequalities do exist.
One Black mom in the study said, “I work for a Fortune 100 company who claimed to support working parents. After reporting the lack of support from my manager and the gender discrimination and bias I’ve suffered since Covid, I was laid off, despite the HR team stating that my manager indeed broke the policies of the company and that my team members confirmed I was singled out.”
Discrimination in the workplace
I have dealt with gender discrimination in the past in regards to salary when I realized a white male co-worker was making more than me in the same exact job. I advocated for myself to be paid fairly but it was an exhausting process that included several uncomfortable conversations. I also have been overlooked for promotions after multiple asks without any specific feedback on why or concrete action steps on what I needed to do to advance myself at a company. I also have felt a sense of isolation as the only mom of color in the department or in the entire company. I sense that I am most likely not the only one who has dealt with these kinds of challenges as a working mom of color.
The Werklabs Moms of Color report showed that significantly more Black and Latinx moms report not being able to work alternate hours compared to White moms. Discrimination in the workplace is unfortunately a real problem and many women and women of color I’ve spoken to over the years have shared their stories and frustrations of dealing with discriminatory practices in the workplace. I’ve heard numerous stories this year that support the findings from the Werklabs Moms of Color report. So, how can we better support working moms of color?
A New York Times article about the struggles of working moms suggested what the government, employers, and everyone else can do to help working mothers who have “shouldered the extra load” during this pandemic. Employers can offer part-time schedules, unpaid leaves, and financial support for childcare to help relieve the pressure off moms who are trying to juggle it all. The article suggested that employers should also consider keeping remote options or adopting hybrid work schedules after offices reopen. I was lucky that my employer decided that our company would be permanently remote with no plans to go back to a physical office.
Mom guilt as part of the pandemic
“Mom guilt” is something that most moms experience, and I’ve had my fair share of mom guilt over the past year. Having a flexible schedule this past year was a life saver for me because it allowed me to help my son with homework, ensure he had hot meals and get him (and myself) to doctor appointments. As a single parent with no family nearby to lean on, it was sometimes difficult to balance everything. One of the silver linings or “blessings in disguise” during the pandemic was that many “in person” companies were forced to offer remote work options or flexible schedules. I find it interesting that these same companies were not as flexible with schedules or remote work prior to the pandemic.
An increase in DE&I efforts is just the beginning
During a recent job search, I noticed the increase in DE&I focused HR roles in recruiting or talent management at various companies which indicates that companies are focusing on DEI efforts more than they ever have in the past. For example, companies like Twitter set their 2025 goals to have 50% of their global workforce by women and 25% of their US workforce to be under-represented minorities by 2025. Other companies have acknowledged the lack of diversity in their leadership ranks or across their company and reorganized their recruitment strategy to focus on hiring more Black and Latinx employees. I am curious to know what companies will be doing to address the unique challenges of working moms of color. I’ve been the only working mom of color in several of my recent companies and have reached out to my outside network support when I could not find it within.
As a society, there is a lot we need to do to ensure working moms of color are not feeling isolated or overwhelmed and able to thrive in the workplace especially during this time. I personally have struggled with workload, work connectedness, and career advancement as a single working mom of color. Other working moms of color are facing even greater challenges and need support from employers in the forms of resources, opportunities, and flexibility. To hear more of their voices regarding work and home life stressors, factors, and experiences, check out both of Werklabs’ Moms of Color and Employee Voices: Moms of Color reports.
Satya serves as the Coaching Partner for On Deck's First 50 Fellowship, an 8-week program for professionals who want to find their next role at early stage startups. Satya has 15+ years of experience in the career development field working in higher education, tech, consulting, and non-profit. She has worked extensively with job seekers, career transitioners, and professionals seeking career growth from a variety of industries in her own coaching practice and as a career consultant for several companies. Satya has her M.A. in Counseling from NYU and is a Board Certified Coach.