Moms in Engineering: a call for help
COVID-19 is the largest setback on gender equality in a decade
With the pandemic, more women are leaving paid job positions to invest their time in non paid job positions, mostly related to household and childcare. The effects are still to be accounted for, but according to various researches, women were hit a lot harder by the pandemic than men. When I had Lucia in May last year, one of the largest struggles that I had, and still have, was to balance work and caring for her and feeling I was probably failing at both.
A report by Deloitte finds that I am not alone: many women are struggling to stay at their jobs at the moment (you can also read a summary of the report at Forbes). The World Economic Forum claims COVID-19 is the largest setback on employment gender equality in at least a decade.
Thinking about that, I decided to use my decision maker position to try to counterweight the effects of the pandemic on women who work in engineering. I created a job share program focused on mothers: 60% of the workload, two women sharing one position and with that, not only we’d give women the relief some of them need, but would also hopefully increase the number of women in the engineering organization. Flexibility on how they split those hours is also part of the design.
Even though we have not hired any women yet as the recruiting process is still ongoing, the first results are massive — two weeks after the release of the program, the number of women applying to those positions alone were double the amount of overall applications we usually get all of engineering over the same period. Considering we rarely get a woman applying for an engineering job, it is a remarkable success.
We had over 200 applicants to our 10 open roles. All the open roles were targeted at people with at least 3-4 years of experience.
For me personally, the result is a bit bittersweet because it confirms that women in general have a need for flexibility that isn’t being met.
Some people criticized the creation of this affirmative action, claiming it is perpetuating gender inequality. I don’t think this is necessarily true and if the program is a success, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t extend it to other groups as well and even to the general employee population. But the pilot is focused on those who, in my point of view, need the most now.
A friend once told me “you have to race from where you are”. I think of this program this way. Women are struggling now, and I think offering flexible jobs with reduced workload can help them to create better balance for their lives and keep them in the workplace.
At the start I was afraid nobody would apply for this program because being a mom can be perceived a negative label even though I strongly believe it shouldn’t be. Quickly I realized lack of applicants wouldn’t be an issue. Now it is time to focus on adapting how we see performance, evaluate promotion and redesign team’s practices to accommodate these women and ensure they feel, in practice, full members of the engineering team and the company.
That is a good challenge to have, and I am more than motivated to try to find the answers, listen to their feedback, and adapt quickly to make sure this is working well for the participants as well as the company.
Now, it is time to take this further than just at unico in Brazil, and for that, I would invite decision makers at all companies to consider creating flexible job opportunities for mothers, and count on me to be an ally and help you navigate through this.
Women in Free Software, Technology, Leadership has been my career-long cause. I am happy to find another way to create real impact on people’s lives. Let’s chat about ways to keep women and bring women back to engineering. It will take all of us to make it work.