How to Make Work-Life Balance a Reality for Women in IT

With RTO mandates widely taking effect this year, no one is impacted quite like the working mother.

Written by Jasmine Burns
Published on Mar. 25, 2024
How to Make Work-Life Balance a Reality for Women in IT
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The pursuit of work-life balance has presented significant challenges for tech employees across the board. But recent research is confirming my own personal observations: women in IT face greater struggles in attempting to achieve it. This especially applies to working mothers.

How Companies Can Prioritize Work-Life Balance

  • Respect employees’ boundaries.
  • Carve out a flexible work culture.
  • Expand benefit packages to be more inclusive.

More by this authorHow to Get Ahead of 2024’s Biggest Challenges

 

How RTO Disproportionately Affects Women

I belong to a local networking group for women professionals and have seen a number of members announce that they were leaving their organizations to care for their children. Many cite return-to-office policies or the cost of daycare as the main factors pulling them away from their corporate jobs.

The pandemic and its aftermath have also taken a notable toll. One employee recently told me that when the pandemic sent everyone into remote work in 2020, she put in at least 70 hours a week because her manager scoffed about working from home being “a joke,” and she was afraid he thought she was never working. In an attempt to create more job security, she took on extra projects outside of her scope to prove her value.

Her fears about employment stability were well-founded, as mothers of children 12 years old and younger lost nearly 2.2 million jobs in the initial months of the pandemic. That’s 2.5 times more jobs lost than those of fathers of small children.

Today, of course, organizations are making an RTO transition, with 51 percent currently requiring some or all staffers to work on-site and 39 percent planning to do so by the end of the year. I recently asked that same individual if she continues to work those excessive hours, and she told me it’s a little better, but not much. Once you demonstrate that level of intensity and commitment, it’s easy for managers to expect it.

 

How to Improve Work-Life Balance for Women

As for the research, it illustrates that these experiences are hardly limited to the women in my networking group. The numbers reveal that a lack of work-life balance in the tech industry is impacting women disproportionately compared to their male counterparts.

Women IT professionals and burnout statistics

  • In listing top reasons contributing to a decision to leave a tech position, women cited a lack of work-life balance as the biggest factor — more than issues regarding salary, people/culture or the job itself.
  • 46 percent of women IT professionals are experiencing a high level of burnout, compared to 38.2 percent of men.
  • According to the same study, nearly 70 percent of women IT professionals feel “run-down and drained of physical and emotional energy” after the workday, compared to 56 percent of men who report the same.

So how do women successfully achieve a level of work-life balance that is on par with their male counterparts? It takes a mindset shift among employees, managers and senior leaders at all levels of today’s IT companies to commit to outcomes, which result from mutually respectful and beneficial collaborations.

 

Draw the Line

Every employee, regardless of gender, needs to establish boundaries, and employers (and fellow employees) need to recognize and respect them. Before accepting a new role, it’s critical to understand what the cultural norms of a company are, to what extent boundaries are respected and what expectations truly exist. 

 

Weave Flexibility Into the Culture

Creating a flexible culture requires genuine collaboration between employees and senior executives. When contemplating whether to join or remain with a company, 48 percent of women in tech rank workplace flexibility as a top three consideration compared to 34 percent of men surveyed.

This means employers need to have an open mind about schedules outside the traditional nine-to-five. They have to cultivate a culture in which managers and team members create schedules that work best for everyone, and in a spirit of trust. They must give their full support to remote environments if individuals cannot come to the office — without making “joking” remarks about WFH not being actual work. Flexibility should also extend to “life happens” moments, when a child is sick or has to go to a medical appointment or a family emergency occurs.

That said, true flexibility is about far more than making some concessions. It’s about training managers and senior leaders so they develop both awareness and empathy for the experiences of different groups — especially parents.

The call for meaningful work-life balance isn’t about avoiding the work part. But it is about being there for the life parts that matter: getting the kids to the bus stop on time, helping with the science fair project or showing up for dance recitals and soccer games.

More on supporting parentsTrying to Diversify Your Engineering Team? Start by Supporting Moms.

 

Boost Benefits

In further proving that talk is cheap and actions matter, HR and senior leadership need to come together to expand benefit packages to be inclusive of all employees. Transitioning to a more inclusive model here may require adding insurance for same-sex couples, fertility support, on-site child care and healthcare plans which go beyond a one-size-fits-all approach.

All of this emerges as entirely possible as long as employees and their organizations are willing to sit down and talk about what’s needed and how to make it happen. If we can finally have a serious conversation and respond with positive changes — even if incremental — women and their companies can both thrive.

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