WHEN's Sharing the Caring report: a snapshot of gender equality in the home during lockdown

WHEN's Sharing the Caring survey garnered over 1,000 responses, taking a snapshot of gender equality in the home during lockdown. Here the Astrea committee shares the highlights and ideas for action.

The Astrea Committee very keenly follow the wonderful work done by the Women’s Higher Education Network (WHEN), a Professional Services network for women in Higher Education. WHEN was founded by the founder of our very own Astrea network at UCL, Alice Chilvers, and Astrea are extremely proud to have and continue to nurture this connection to WHEN. 

The Astrea Committee would like to take this opportunity to highlight the valuable and insightful research carried out by WHEN in recent weeks and months, specifically into the ways in which unpaid labour is divided between co-parenting couples, and against the backdrop of national restrictions imposed in March in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a topic we know touches the lives of so many members of our network, and the arising recommendations to individuals, line managers and institutions to safeguard the health and wellbeing of staff are closely aligned with Astrea’s core values. This research culminates in a full report which you download here: Sharing the Caring UK Higher Education Professional Services parents, work and family life during 2020 lockdown.

Here at Astrea, we very much welcome the visibility and raised awareness of these issues that this research and the publication of the report affords, and we believe all members of the Astrea Network can benefit from engaging with this report and its findings. The safeguarding of the health and wellbeing of staff, as ways of working for very many of us have still not returned to normal, is so very important. 

Highlights of the key finding of the research carried out by WHEN

  • Traditional gender roles were still evident in the division of duties. It was predominantly women that self-reported organising the family’s time and activities, school work and household chores, and that were physically and emotionally more accessible for their children and extended family. 
  • There has been a tremendous effect on wellbeing, sense of confidence and ability to work. In line with global findings about women being more likely to lose or leave their jobs due to the challenges arising from the pandemic, this raises an important concern regarding female economic disempowerment in the near to long term future.
  • Mums and dads were overwhelmingly concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their careers in the next six to twenty four months. They were concerned about job performance, career progress and reputation, loss of development opportunities and perceived a lack of involvement in decision making at work.

Astrea wholeheartedly welcome the recommendations made to staff in a co-parenting couple, and to the Higher Education institutions that employ them, set out in the report:

Ideas for action for individuals at work

  • Talk with your line manager about your circumstances, challenges and concerns. If they are not equipped to do so, consider sharing these concerns with a colleague in your team or an ally/ sponsor/ mentor who might be – but do seek support.
  • Be proactive and honest about your availability and whether deadlines are realistic.
  • Keep a task list of all you are doing weekly, then reflect on it monthly. Seeing progress and accomplishment can prove a great motivator when you’re feeling less confident.
  • Engage with work-provided support systems (counselling, chaplaincy, colleague groups, etc.)

Ideas for action for individuals at home

  • Talk with your partner about the division of household, caring and childcare duties. Take steps in the areas where you feel there would be most beneficial impact, before it needs to happen. Alternate mornings and afternoons, take turns with children, chores and other duties, and ensure a chunk of daily quiet, protected working time for each in a dedicated work zone with limited interruptions.
  • Prioritise your mental and physical wellbeing, and allow yourself to take care of yourself.

Ideas for action in Higher Education institutions

  • Collect data on parents and carers in your organisations – use this to inform policy, decision making and create effective support interventions. Encourage men with caring responsibilities to work flexibly.
  • Educate your managers and leadership on how COVID-19 impacts different groups of staff.
  • Create clear guidance on effective working from home arrangements. This should include how to maintain wellbeing, how to re-prioritise workloads, how to communicate with colleagues and continue to be part of decision making.
  • Ask line-managers to maintain an open dialogue with their staff, provide the opportunity to request help, re-prioritise workloads or re-think professional development and career growth opportunities. Do not exclude those with caring responsibilities in order to ‘help’.
  • Consider short- and medium- term changes to promotion and appraisal processes to account for impact on objectives and likely wellbeing issues. Re-consider deadlines, broaden success criteria and focus on output as opposed to ‘working hours’.
  • Openly communicate about wellbeing resources in your organisation, encourage honest sharing of challenges and foster a community of support. Seek senior ambassadorship as advocates to normalise parental struggles and to prioritise compassion as a value.

And finally, the Astrea Committee share some of their wellbeing tips on looking after themselves during this uncertain time

Strangely enough, I miss my commute as it was a chance for me to do some non-work related reading and to switch off. Now that I’m spending all day at home, I make sure I go for a walk in the morning during the time I’d usually be commuting to UCL on the train. This helps to prepare me for the day ahead and to make the most of the limited daylight we’re getting now!
I’ve found UCL’s PACT group to be a really helpful source of support. It also makes me realise that I’m not the only one struggling to balance childcare with my day job.
I've started scheduling Zoom exercise classes (Boogie Bounce!) for the odd lunchtime. This helps break up the day and forces me not to work straight through in back to back meetings.
I'd encourage people to read the MyAnalytics email report each week from Outlook that gives some really interesting insights into your working practices - e.g., other people in your department have spent 18 hours over the past month reading emails outside their working hours that you sent outside your working hours. I found this quite a powerful motivator not to flip my computer back on after the kids are in bed.
Having a regular informal Teams call where all talk of work is banned – this has helped to mimic those random chats we used to have in the staff kitchen!