Ep. 98: Nicole Gonzalez Cumberbatch - Working Parents Working from Home

Nicole Gonzalez Cumberbatch, VP of Finance and HR at Setnor Byer Insurance & Risk, joins Count Me In to discuss some of the challenges working parents are facing while working from home during the global pandemic. Nicole is a senior accounting professional with over 17 years of experience and also currently serves on IMA's Diversity & Inclusion Committee. She is passionate about mentorship and leadership, and she knows the importance of helping others juggle their various priorities in today's work environment. Nicole provides some action finance and accounting professionals can take and policies or strategies they can implement to feel more supported and empowered during this time. Download and listen now!

Contact Nicole Gonzalez Cumberbatch: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicoleggonzalez/
IMA's Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion: https://www.imanet.org/about-ima/diversity-and-inclusion

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
Mitch: (00:00)
Welcome back to Count Me In. IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Mitch Roshong and this is episode 98 of our podcast series. Today's episode features a conversation between my co-host Adam and member of IMA's Diversity and Inclusion committee, Nicole Gonzalez Cumberbatch. Nicole is a senior accounting professional with over 17 years of experience. She is an advocate for leadership and mentorship, and in this episode, she shares some strategies for the working parents who find themselves juggling various priorities on a daily basis. This timely conversation is helpful for many accounting and finance professionals who find themselves working from home and looking for some tips to better balance their time. So to hear more action that you can take, keep listening as we head over to the conversation now.

Adam: (00:52)
So Nicole given the COVID pandemic, so many of us parents have found ourselves in a unique environment of juggling our careers and family without substantial caregiver or employer support. What impact has that had on the workforce?

Nicole: (01:12)
Well, Adam it has had a tremendous impact Obviously, economically, you know, we see change drastically due to high unemployment, massive lay-offs companies going out of business. So in that aspect, it's, you know, working parents are now out of work, right? Trying to figure out how to support their families. But on the flip side of that, for working parents, especially with young children, it's been extremely challenging just recently. I read a New York times op-ed that said, there was a quote that said, “You can have a kid or a job. You can't have both.” And I was like, Oh gosh, that's so, you know, that really, I think summed up a good portion of the last seven months. And then just briefly to kind of pivot, and I know you're a male and I'm a female, not trying to be biased, but more specifically female working, working parents only because in general women are the ones who kind of run the household and they were usually the ones that stayed at home. So another statistic I have is that it said, according to this benefits platform called Cleo, one-third of working parents have already left the workforce, and that was from July, do or gone part-time due to COVID related reasons, and 70% of those parents were women. And the reason why that affects the workforce is because as I previous, previously stated, women were usually the ones that worked from home, the mentor, their breadwinners, the ones who worked out outside of the home, and you know, where the support system for the family over the past 10, 20 years, women were joining the, joining the workforce at tremendous numbers. I think recently it said it was like up 50% and equal to men in the workforce. So now we're seeing a setback of that, right? So you see women going back and having to choose. And if that is 70% of women back in July, we're in October, you know, so I'm assuming that the numbers have either have probably more so gone up, and I guess the bigger question is what does that do for the future? I know I've read articles that say, some women will not be going back because there's so much uncertainty with childcare and not having support. sSo it's, it's had a tremendous impact, and I think it's actually frightening, for what the future holds, you know, working parents in general, again, had to struggle with before the pandemic of trying to find support and balance and, all of those things. And now even more so in trying to find childcare amongst the pandemic, when, who else can watch your children, but yourself.

Adam: (03:50)
So what are some actions that parents can take, you know, to work through and to be better prepared during, as these challenges continue to come up, because as we see it, you know, the pandemics not really going away as, as soon as we all thought it may be.

Nicole: (04:04)
You know, I think first off, I think you have to surrender and accept the fact that this is what it is. And that's, I think important in all things of life, right? You just got to kind of surrender to it. I think it's kinda ingrained in us that we want things to go this way, especially as a parents in general. You know, we may want our children to act a certain way or we want to react this way, but that's just not life. And especially during a pandemic, as I'm sure you've seen and myself, you know, things just arise that we can't control. So surrender. Next I would say, adjust your expectations, allow yourself grace for the chaos and imperfect reality that's going to ensue, like we just know that's going to happen and allow for flexibility. you know, I think it's important again, as parents in general, but more so when you're trying to work from home and, and be a caregiver to your children at the same time, like you just have to allow yourself that grace and know some days are going to be more chaotic. Some days are not going to run smoothly and you just have to be okay with that. And then I would say aesthetically, you know, make sure that you have a comfortable working space for yourself and for your children, if they are, you know, doing virtual school, if you have a younger child turn on your TV and Disney plus, you know, just kidding, but no, you have to find ways of maybe creating spaces for them that next to your desk that makes them feel comfortable that mommy and daddy are right there, but they kind of have a comfortable space. And then just a few other things I would say, create a routine, this way you and your child goals kind of know what the day is like, as opposed to just waking up and be like, Hey, what's going to happen today. Make sure you have the right equipment supplies and honestly ask, ask for help. I think one of the biggest things, is again, prior to the pandemic working parents had these issues of trying to balance and finding childcare and all these things and get proper time off, and now in the pandemic everybody's having these issues. I think men are seeing the struggles women have had of trying to run a household and work while the children are kind of there. You know? so I think it's had everyone kind of slowed down and realized like, Oh, wow, this is a thing, this is something that's major. So I would say, ask for help, you know, whatever that, whatever that is, you know, that you need, but ask for help from your employer, your village, your community, and go from there.

Adam: (06:34)
Definitely. I mean, because there's so many new challenges and you kind of have to be flexible. That's the kind of the thing I kind of centered it on is like being flexible because not only do you have, you know, kids working from kids doing their school from home, but then they also have projects that they need to do and you have your work that you have to do and you have to kind of balance it all You have to be flexible and not only do we have to be flexible, but companies have to be flexible with their employees. Like, Hey, this person can't come to this meeting at this time because their kid has something that they need to help them with at that time, and they need to be able to be flexible in that as well.

Nicole: (07:06)
Yeah. And I think the struggles with the smaller companies are probably the biggest thing, like some of the biggest bigger companies, and I'm sure we'll get into what companies are kind of doing this quote unquote the right way. but I think that's a bigger challenge in smaller companies, right? When, if you're, if you're, in a position that you wear multiple hats, you know, and you're really the kind of one that does just this job and this job, you can't really rely on someone else because it's you, but that's why it's even more important for companies ,to kind of have certain things in place because we are all kind of all going through the same thing, you know?

Adam: (07:39)
Do you have some examples of some things that companies have done to kind of step up and support working parents during the pandemic?

Nicole: (07:46)
Yes, and you know, for my research, it's been a lot of the bigger companies again, right? The Microsofts, the Googles, Target, Salesforce, Uber. I mean, I can go down the list of these larger companies, but again, they're larger companies. Some can say they can afford to have certain things, and you know, a lot of the policies, which is actually crazy to me are policies that should have been again, instilled before the pandemic. But a lot of it is, extending paid time off. There was one company I saw this actually was allowing their employees to take a sabbatical and that they would pay them up to 20% of their salary to take the sabbatical, to take time off if they needed it. I think it was actually a tech company, gosh, I wish I had written down the name, but I'm sure you could probably Google, like company that offers sabbatical, but really it's just creating expansive benefits packages like the increased time off, flexible work hours, childcare reimbursements for the ones that do have some childcare, options available to them. But really, and truly it was just showing support. I think it goes a long way for a company to say, we see you, we hear you, we understand you and we're here for you. And if I can say, to any, you know, CEO or HR director out there is really, that's the biggest thing that an employee wants to hear. And I think you can have these high level, benefit packages, but really, and truly it's an employee or going to an employee and saying, what can I do for you? Because maybe childcare, isn't your issue. Maybe you just need a mental health day. Maybe you just need a day to say, look, I need time for myself. I needed a mental health day today. I was going to take a half day for this podcast. And I was like, you know what? And then to take the full day, I'm going to send my son to daycare and I'm just going to use a time for myself. So it's really as an employer recognizing that and having the relationship with your employees so that they feel comfortable enough to come to you and say, Hey, I need, I need this from you. Can you help me with that?

Adam: (09:49)
It's almost like being, they need to be open to, more requests and they need to be flexible as well, because there's going to be things that we're all going to encounter that they haven't had to address before.

Nicole: (10:00)
Correct. You know, it's interesting. I wrote an article for aStrategic Finance that was published March 1st and I had just thought about it cause I was like looking at the publishing date and it was specifically related to supporting working parents in the workforce in general. And when I went back to it and I wrote that, gosh, probably January, February published March right before all of this chaos started, and a lot of it was just the same stuff that we're talking about. I mean, some of it was mainly like being in the office, but it was that support being flexible, allowing for grace from your employee, paid time off for working parents. And I think also not making, an employee fear, fear losing their job, right? The stability and knowing like, if I need this time off instilling in them that look you're okay. If you need this it's okay. and I think that's another big thing because when employees do want to ask for the help and you're afraid that there'll be a repercussion for it.

Adam: (11:02)
So let's say you are a company and you're a leader in that company. You're like, okay, are there some effective policies and strategies that they can adopt to help these parents feel supported and empowered during this time?

Nicole: (11:16)
Yeah. You know, I think it goes back. A lot of it is just being, being supportive. It's increasing work, pay time off, it's increasing flexible hours. I mean, I think in general, that's what has had to happen right? Only because of people having technology issues and trying to build, or, you know, trying to build a work from home atmosphere, you know? So I think companies have had no choice, otherwise you wouldn't probably have employees, you know, of having, you know, implementing some of those, flexibility. But I think really, and that's what it comes down to as far as effective strategies and policies is having open communication, showing support, allowing for some flex time. And even if you are a small company, I think there's ways to be flexible in saying, okay, well maybe if I can't pay me, I can't give you a robust, extra eight weeks of paid time off. I can maybe let you take off on a Tuesday, Wednesday, and you can make it up on a weekend. Like there has to be a communication though,and I think that's like the main key is just communicating what works for your employees. Maybe have a survey and say, Hey, what are you guys needing? What, what can we do for you? And again, in my research, that's just what a lot of these companies are doing. They're having these open door policies, they're making their employees feel comfortable to say, Hey, I need help. And this is what I need from you making it okay to say, I do need time off without fear of losing their job. and that's been the most, the biggest thing. I know for me personally, I was, I, I was home with my son for about three months, but having to go right with it started the pandemic and home with my son and had to go into work because it was such an antiquated system that we had. We were not able to work from home and it was at the height of the pandemic. And I was freaking out because I'm like, Oh gosh, I have to go into work. Even though it was kind of by myself. But there were still people going in and out. My son is two and a half at that time. So I was freaking out and I was just like, I, I can't do this, and luckily I went on FMLA and I was off for about a month or so before my son's daycare opened and we felt comfortable sending him back, but that's like my little snippet of story, and I'm sure there's hundreds out there, including your own of you trying to figure out what am I going to do with my children and how I'm going to balance work. and I eventually ended up being laid off from that position, which worked out. But I do believe it's because I chose to take the FMLA to be with my family, but I was like, I'm sorry, I have to choose my family over anything else because it's what's important for us right now.

Adam: (13:53)
Definitely. It almost sounds like, companies are actually having to,, they're almost being forced to do what they're supposed to do, which is put their effort into their employees because there's many studies that have shown that if you put that effort into the employee and make them see that they're valued, then their production as an employee goes up exponentially for the company. And they're actually having to do that. And the companies are actually seeing like it paying off when they do that.

Nicole: (14:23)
Correct. A hundred percent. I think that's exactly it. It's things that should have been done for the longest of time, things as simple as increased time off or flexibility, working from home, childcare possible reimbursement, all these things that have kind of been floating out there that some companies are implementing that again, people are realizing, cause the whole world had to stop and say, Oh wow. You know the labor for, even though we have essential. And obviously that is, you know, we have our nurses and our doctors and our policemen and all of that. But the workforce in general of these companies being like, wow, if I don't support and we don't, then we're not going to have a workforce, especially for the ones who are working parents and are trying to juggle the two. So I think it's correct. It's forced them to kind of basically have no choice, but to implement some of these things. I think there's also studies that have shown in general when you have enriching or enrich, PTO plans that, you know, employees are more apt to be more productive before they leave to go on vacation because they want to make sure everything's done correctly, etcetera, so that when they come back. So it's the same kind of concept, you know, had my previous job just a lot, and all I asked for was flexibility. I'll come in on the weekend when my husband's off, like I just needed some flexibility. I was like, I'll take a pay cut. Like I was like something and they weren't willing to work with me. And I think that's where it goes of. Just ask your employee what they want. I didn't want to not work. I just wanted flexibility. So to your point, correct. I think employees have had employers have had to realize this is what the new norm is. And I do believe if there's goodness to come out of this is that, you know, companies are adopting these, these plans to support working parents now and in the future.

Adam: (16:12)
Definitelyk and I feel like the many companies who are against working from home have seen, Oh, wait, it can be productive when we can have people productive at home, and they can have kids at home and be productive and still get things done. So it's really changing the mindset of, of, of companies as we move forward, and I think it'll, I think in the end, like you said, there can be some good that comes out of this horrible pandemic that we've been in.

Nicole: (16:37)
A hundred percent. I mean, obviously it's still related to what your position is, what your job is and what you do. But yes. I mean, I know people that say, yeah, even though working from home, they might think an employer might think, Oh, but you're going to be lazy and maybe do a load of laundry, but employees have said, yeah, but on the flip side, I'm also answering emails now at 6:00 PM or 7:00 PM. So you're actually getting more out of me because instead of me having to do an hour commute to the office and an hour commute home and being a little bit more mentally drained, right. I can get up, start my computer at seven, o'clock get the day rolling. So again, you know, I think, yeah, and I think statistically, we will see that. I think we will see overall. And of course there are exceptions to the rule. we will see that it's, it's benefit a lot of companies of having people in and seeing that companies are working from home. I know many businesses are not even investing in opening more offices, so they're actually saving money because they're seeing that people can tela-commute or, you know, work from home. So yes, I think overall there will be, there will be some good that comes from this.

Closing: (17:44)
This has been Count Me In IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession, if you like, what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.
©Copyright 2020 Institute of Management Accountants. All rights reserved.