Women in the Workplace: Local mothers talk work-life balance

Posted at 8:27 AM, Jun 16, 2021

DETROIT (WXYZ) — All week long on 7 Action News, we're highlighting "Women in the Workplace."

We're digging into what metro Detroit women are facing and how those obstacles have shifted during the pandemic. From childcare to maintaining a work-life balance or re-entering and leaving the workforce; we're tackling it all with a new topic each day.

Related: Women in the Workplace: Employers' role in avoiding a 'she-cession'

When it comes to maintaining an ideal "work-life" or "work-home" balance, COVID-19 made pre-existing workplace disparities even more clear in some cases.

“I remember several meetings where he sat on my lap during staff meetings because that’s all I could do," Amanda Althouse, a teacher in Monroe and mother to 2-year-old Elliott, said.

Related: Women in the Workplace: How childcare problems may impact the bounce back

It's something a lot of working moms in metro Detroit can probably relate to. Only in Amanda's case, when she returned to teaching high school students in-person for the last few weeks of school, she was also juggling a new medical diagnosis for Elliott; epilepsy. In the beginning, that meant no more daycare.

“My husband works in Toledo so he has a little bit of a commute. And we just had to rely on our family," Amanda said. "To have to ask somebody every day, 'can you come over?' or us to stay home, you know we both missed quite a bit of work.”

And seeing her students face-to-face was something Amanda was looking forward to. In many ways, she wanted to go back.

“It’s just a lot to try to do both," she said.

Amanda, like so many working parents, found a way to make it work, even if that meant relying on family or working in unconventional ways.

We asked Dr. Erin Hunter, Director of the University Center for the Child and Family at U of M, why jumping back into work – whether back in-person or returning to the workplace in general – can be so difficult for moms.

One of the most obvious challenges for many working mothers is childcare.

“I was thinking about the phrase 'having it all.' And we talk about women 'having it all,' and then I thought about some of the gender disparities and when we say to men that 'they have it all' what does that mean? And I feel like for men it’s almost the status quo a little bit more," Hunter told said.

Shelleen McHale has two older kids, her teenage son still at home. A marketing professional, when the pandemic hit she was in the midst of a career change. She was recruited by a new company, but then furloughed and let go.

"For the first time ever in my life, I was on unemployment," she said.

Fast forward a year and a few months later, and Shelleen took a side business that she's passionate about and made the leap to turn it into a full-time job.

“In that respect, I’m somewhat grateful.”

She just started going back into the office two days a week.

“I was kind of excited about it. To be around other people with kind of the common goal and to see them face-to-face instead of on Zoom," Shelleen told Action News.

Some companies are offering paid "returnships" for both and women, to make re-entering the workplace easier. Many of them are geared toward working mothers or people who have been out of the workforce for months or even years.

“I do think that our society has been changing, especially over like the last 10 years or so. But where we still currently are is that these roles fall much more on women," said Dr. Hunter, who also noted that depending on a family dynamic, many of these challenges can also fall on men or partners, and that fathers play an important role in childcare and home-life also.

“You can’t give everybody everything," Amanda said. “You can only do your best.”