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McKinsey: Working mothers at risk for long-term career loss

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Lareina Yee, McKinsey Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss McKinsey’s new data on the struggles working mothers face across America.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Before the pandemic, women made up more than 50% of the country's workforce. But that number has dropped sharply as many women, especially women of young children, have been furloughed or laid off. Still, many others have had to choose between their jobs or staying home and caring for their children. The consulting firm McKinsey is out with some new data on the challenges facing working mothers today.

And here to break it down for us is Lareina Yee, McKinsey's Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. Thanks so much for being with us. Let's just paint a-- paint the picture for us right now for working moms who are out of the workforce. How much of a challenge is it for them to return?

LAREINA YEE: And an alarm bell this whole year has been an incredible test of resilience of women, but in particular of working moms. And for those who have stepped out, you shouldn't feel that you're the only one, because what we saw in our research at the early stage of the pandemic is that one in three working mothers were thinking about stepping back or stepping out. So to your question, if you've stepped out, the question is, how do you come back into the workforce?

KRISTIN MYERS: So I want to ask, then, if you are one of those working moms-- and we've talked a lot about how the pandemic has really impacted mothers, working women-- how can companies step in to help to make sure that their moms don't have to leave the workforce or suffer some of these losses over the long-term?

LAREINA YEE: Yeah, so a couple of things-- one is, to put a little bit of a dark cloud on it, I'm not sure that we fully seen the effects of attrition. So one of the things when I talk to CEOs, what we're finding is that the attrition in some ways hasn't fully played out. And at least in the corporate sector, you may see over the next six months an increased set of attrition. And some of those indicators are around the fact that we're coming out of the pandemic and people are starting to make different employment decisions.

But to your first point about, what do you want to do if you want to come back? And how can companies help? A couple of really key things-- one is during COVID, there are a whole bunch of temporary policies and programs that were stood up. And before we just assume that those are temporary, I would suggest that companies take a look at what some of those are and that you may want to keep them as your permanent programs.

So examples of that would be more flex time. Examples of that would be paternity and maternity leave. Examples of that would be a lot of companies gave COVID days. And why wouldn't they just be COVID days, why wouldn't you actually have flex days for the fact that even after the pandemic, we're going to be balancing home and work.

Another one is flex hours. So we actually went from being all in the office to not being in the office at all. Somewhere in there is a median that would give women the flexibility. And we know that for working women and for working mothers, two years ago, the number one barrier that they found was a lack of flexibility.

KRISTIN MYERS: I think we might have lost Alexis there. So, Lareina, I'm hoping you can chat just a little bit more about some of those challenges that you're expecting in the longer term for some of those working mothers. I hear that you're saying that we don't yet quite know the full impact. But what we're seeing right now-- what are you anticipating going forward?

LAREINA YEE: Well, one way to see it is that over the COVID period of time that we've had a bit over a year, we have seen that unemployment has disproportionately affected women. And when you start to unpeel how much of that is working mothers, think of it generally as about a third. So about a third of working women across the whole economy, you tend to have a third that are working mothers. So that's kind of the first thing to anchor ourselves on.

And then we also know that within working mothers, we saw a disproportionate impact on mothers with children under 10. So some of the statistics you're showing have younger children. So as we think about that, you've already seen some of it play out. You've also seen a lot of companies react in terms of, what are some of the retention programs that they can have? What are the ways that they can ease a bit of the burden when women are essentially doing a job and a half in terms of the amount of household duties that they're running at home?

So a couple of things to consider-- one is, how do you double down on your flex time programs? How do you do part time so that women can even job share? How do you actually double down on your return to work programs so that when people come back, there's an actual formal onboarding or reboarding program for them?

These are a couple of the things that companies can start to think about. And part of it is if you step back, there's a talent imperative. Because prior to COVID, we've been investing. And companies have been investing in women talent. So the idea that you would have outsized attrition, that's also not good business.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah, I want to jump off that point, Lareina, in terms of what not having women come back in in a big way to the workforce is going to mean for the workplace going forward. What kind of long-term impact are we talking about?

LAREINA YEE: Sure. I mean, one way you might think of it is, let's head off the possibility of a gendered recession. In a practical way, let's just take one company example and say, how would that play out? So companies over the last five or six years have made strides in having close to a third of women at the top-- think about your SVP and your VP roles.

And then towards the early end, a lot of industries-- take your consumer retail companies-- are 50-50 women and men at the early stages. And if you think, to my earlier point, that maybe a third of those women have children who are living at home, that's a significant portion of your workforce that you're putting at risk at all levels of your organization.