By Janice Ross
Between juggling work-at-home schedules to the demands of being a mom, women, particularly mothers, have been disproportionately impacted by job loss since the start of the pandemic. In September 2020 alone, 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce, compared to 216,000 men — and one in four women is considering either leaving the workforce or reducing their work hours. But unemployment is just part of the story. Illness, sick kids or parents, home-schooling and lack of daycare more fully paint the picture of why women have been hit harder.
I recently sat down for a screen-side chat with Amy Thompson, EVP and Chief People Officer at Mattel. We talked about what women — and what companies — can do to make sure 2021 doesn’t become the year we undo all the work we’ve done to close the gender gap. Here are some of Amy’s key takeaways. If you’d like to hear the whole conversation, check it out in the WIT Webinar archives at womenintoys.com.
JANICE: How Has COVID impacted you personally?
AMY: COVID has of course brought strain and challenges, but I’ve experienced some incredible personal learnings and insights along the way. With three kids at home, spanning high school to middle school to elementary school, we’ve got a full house at the Thompson’s. Some personal takeaways for me are 1) Importance of time and structured days. Between mornings spent setting up for the day and school schedules, and afternoons and evenings aligned around homework plans, there’s very little time left for me — especially in the mornings and evenings. So as a practice, I block out time mid-day to either work out, take a walk, center my thoughts and intentions. This is truly uninterrupted time, just for me. 2) Deeper connections with my kids. With sports, sleepovers and birthday parties on hold, there’s more time for conversation. It’s been especially important since this is such a formative stage at their ages and in their lives, as they’re processing the news, social media, environmental debate, and forming their own opinions on these issues. It’s been uplifting to engage with them on a deeper level. Maintaining those connections is something I intend to carry forward with our family, whenever we return to the new normal. 3) More time at home created a “reset moment.” Life is less transactional than it used to be. There’s more time and space for personal and home goals. But at the same, I think we’ve had to personally do a reset on what can be accomplished. I’ve learned to appreciate what I call micro-goals, and really just focusing on one or two things at a time. These simple practices have had a big impact on my overall outlook and general wellness. I’m also focused more on healthy coping strategies. I now make it a daily habit to do one nurturing thing a day. It could be a workout, a facial, reading — the point is to build stamina and help me rebalance. Just by carving out time for that one thing has helped me rebalance work and home, and all the roles we play in our lives.
J: There really is a blurring of lines between home and work. How are you and other leaders at Mattel balancing it for yourselves and for your teams?
A: This has been our focus at Mattel over the past year. For me personally, and for all HR leaders across all companies, 2020 presented a series of unprecedented, redefining moments — from COVID and ensuring our global workforce was protected from a health and safety perspective, to Black Lives Matter and ensuring that the company was elevating important social injustice conversations and taking meaningful action, to supporting the business through massive disruption. The role of HR was not only critical, but we needed to adapt, lead and reprioritize in ways that were progressive, strategic, and thoughtful.
At Mattel, we support our employees and their families in three specific areas: 1) Health and Wellness — For YOU. Focusing on the individual, we’ve taken a mindful approach to working remotely and the importance of flexibility. This has been the most important action we’ve taken — just recognizing that the 8-5 workday has evaporated, and employees need flexibility in their day. We empower employees to break up their workday and find time to move their body. We know that exercise reduces fatigue and tension, especially when you’re in Zoom meetings all day. We encourage employees to take time off, to take a real lunch break, or to take “walking meetings,” which have been very popular. Introducing additional ways to incorporate health and wellness into the workday has also been a priority for us.
2) Taking Care of Your TEAM. Recognizing that wellness is both physical and mental, we work with managers to make sure they’re not only promoting flexibility work schedules within their teams, but also equipping managers with the tools and resources to support mental health in the workplace. Through our poll surveys, we’ve found there’s a direct correlation between retention and well-being; happier employees are more optimistic, more motivated, and they tend to stay with the company longer. There are four actions that leaders can take to support their teams:
a. Burnout: Normalize the Experience. Acknowledge that it’s OK not to be OK. The role of the leader is to create a culture of psychological safety. Create the space and environment where employees feel comfortable talking to their manager about where they’re experiencing challenges.
b. Role-model Healthy Behaviors. We found that when leaders start sharing more openly about how they’re coping and how they’re balancing work/home life, it not only helps to build camaraderie and trust on a team, but also provides examples that employees can practice themselves.
c. Listen and Lead with Empathy. This has been a primary focus for us at Mattel. The simple gesture of just asking, How can I help? It opens conversation and creates an even playing field where the employee feels that it’s OK to talk about what’s going on in their life, that they have a manager who’s there for them, not only to help them grow in their career, but also to help them grow as an individual.
d. Leverage Your Resources. There are many actionable resources, tools, and tips that we share with our employees, specifically on working remotely, health & wellness, and parenting, but peer groups and mental health resources (like Headspace) and counselors through your company’s EAP program can also be very helpful.
3) Supporting working PARENTS: Essentially, parents have needed to recreate the structure that happens in the classroom at home. I don’t think we can underestimate the extraordinary demand that’s been placed on working parents, and especially women, over the past year. More often, the parent responsibility falls on the mom, and is often referred to as the “double-shift.” Studies and articles shared in the media cite that the “dropout” rate for women mid-career is due to feeling pressured to work more, burned out and exhausted. So, what can we do about it? Here are some of the things we’re doing at Mattel.
a. Offer Flexible Schedules and Leaves. Above all else, this is the most impactful gesture a company can make. Allowing working moms especially, to set a schedule that works for them and their families, goes a long way to create balance and retention, and avoid “dropout.” By offering flexibility and remote working options, we’re seeing great returns. Employees have never been more engaged, more productive, and for us, it’s working really well.
b. Parenting Resources. As I mentioned, we provide a host of tips, tools and resources for parenting. One of our designers at Mattel hosted a virtual art and drawing class for toddlers. It was a great way to leverage our internal resources and provide a productive hour for parents, while keeping their child engaged in a fun and creative activity.
c. Offer Parents Groups and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). We have many ERGs at Mattel, but two in particular — our Parents Group and Women of Mattel — have been the most helpful during this time. These communities have been highly influential in recommending policy and program changes to help us drive a more progressive work environment and more support for our working parents and women at Mattel. I encourage all companies to create forums like these. It’s really helpful feedback that we use to inform our efforts to retain and grow talent while we’re balancing the new challenges that come with a remote work environment.
J: To wrap up, what are some takeaways that can help all of us in both our personal and professional lives?
A: For me, there are three key takeaways: 1) Mindset Shift – PERSONAL. Just as businesses have needed to reimagine growth and how they operate in our new reality, we too have to pivot our mental frame to what we focus on and what we let go of. With all challenges come opportunity. During the most trying times, I try to isolate my thoughts to focus on what the universe is presenting to me right now, how do I capitalize on this moment, what good can I do for others, and what I can learn from this experience.
2) Work/Life Shift – PROFESSIONAL. Try and test new methods, from daily schedules to walking meetings. Define what works best for you to help you achieve balance. Talk to your boss and your team; people around you want to support you. The more they know, the more they can do to set you up for success. This is also a great way to role model healthy behaviors for your team.
3) LIFT EACH OTHER UP! Practice compassion. listen with empathy, and support one another. Life can be tough, these times are uncertain. So the more we can lift each other up and support each other, we’ll come through this stronger together.
This interview appeared in the February 2021 issue of TFE Magazine.