Why are working moms important to the workplace?
Working moms bring lots of value to an organization. They are often organized and master multi-taskers with a knack for negotiation. They can prioritize tasks accordingly and are known for being empathetic to their leaders and peers.
Furthermore, research shows that diverse teams produce better results for businesses. Thus, if organizations want to maintain their diversity, they need to be able to retain top female talent. And to do this, they need to be able to support women as they embark on key milestones in their lives, such as the decision to become a mother.
- The journey to motherhood begins long before pregnancy. Organizations should evaluate what resources, tools, and initiatives they are providing through the full parenthood journey.
- Do not make assumptions about what working moms want. instead, encourage all leaders to have open conversations on how working moms want to engage with work.
- If you want to retain top talent, you will need to go above and beyond in meeting the needs of working moms to allow them to feel fully supported in their transition back to work.
The motherhood penalty
Research shows that women who become mothers experience a phenomenon known as the motherhood penalty. This penalty has both career advancement and financial implications on a woman. It is reported that women experience a 6% decrease in salary when they become mothers, whereas men who become fathers experience an increase. Even more startling, the wage gap between women who are working moms and non-moms can be greater than the wage gap between men and women. This hints that there is an issue with how organizations perceive, treat and manage working moms.
The “Ideal Worker” vs. “Good Mother” bias
Additionally, working moms suffer from unconscious biases that impact their career advancement opportunities. These are held in the personas we have of what an “ideal worker” and the “the good mother” is. The ideal worker is one who devotes all their time to their job. They reply to emails quickly, are available for late nights socials and or meetings, and are freely available to travel. On the flip side, “the good mother” is meant to devote all their time to rearing their children. The belief is that because the mother is absorbed in raising her children, she is unreliable at work. And that because she has children, she is less likely to be able to travel.
These biases may nudge leaders into behaviours that inhibit working moms. For example, if a leader believes that a working mom is unavailable after hours, they may exclude them from special opportunities, like high-visibility projects. This reduces the opportunity for working moms to take on that special project that would land her a promotion. Instead of making assumptions of what a working mother may or may not do, leaders should just directly ask.
Pandemic impact on working moms
Recent research is uncovering that the pandemic has erased almost a decade of progress in women’s equality at work. COVID has exacerbated the unconscious biases around “the good mother” by making an employee’s motherhood very visible. Working from home paired with constant video calls works like a magnifying glass into one’s motherly responsibilities. With children walking across screens and parents having to juggle caregiving responsibilities with work, it is becoming easier to judge a working mom as “the good mother” rather than the “ideal worker”. Leaders need to be aware of these biases in order to combat creating conditions that are unfair to working mothers.
The working mom’s parenthood journey
Companies that want to keep star talent need to understand that the parenthood journey is marked with nuance and complexity. More importantly, organizations need to understand that the journey begins even before an employee becomes pregnant. Below details a parenthood journey view to understanding the key moments and transitions that individual experiences as they venture into motherhood.
It is important to recognize that planning for parenthood is an exhaustive exercise, one of which that happens long before pregnancy. From planning around potential promotions to fertility treatments, the process of planning a family can be very stressful. And as a result, this stress will manifest itself at work.
Organizations can support their employees during this initial phase of the journey in different ways. For example, providing medical coverage and or leave for infertility treatments is one way that companies can help alleviate the stress. Another way is having clear and demonstrable career paths that provide hopeful mothers with the confidence that becoming a mother will not impact their career advancement opportunities. Male leaders taking their full parental leave is a great way to set an example that the organization supports working parents.
Many working moms report that returning to an unfamiliar workplace being a key factor for quitting. Finding ways to keep employees on maternity leave connected to work is key in supporting a successful transition back to work. This can take form in having designated days where the employee comes into the office to meet the team. Alternatively, have mentors and sponsors continue to connect with employees throughout mat leave with the key intention of keeping the individual up to date with changes and special projects.
Additionally, taking maternity leave creates financial stress for many parents. One of the best ways companies can support their employees is to provide ample leave and financial support. Going above and beyond the legal minimums in your jurisdiction is one way to show employees’ support.
Finally, parenthood is a huge milestone in any individuals’ life. Companies should take part in celebrating such milestones with their team members. Host a lunch to welcome the newborn into the world. This will give an opportunity for the team member to reconnect with the team in a social setting.
The return of mothers and parents from maternal and paternal leave is the time that has received the most attention from organizations. Two key pieces that companies need to focus on is the transition back from leave and the ongoing working conditions.
As new mothers return to work, there are a number of things they are adjusting to in addition to an evolved workplace. Ease this transition by providing support. Create spaces for nursing and private fridges for breast milk.
As companies approach their new normal, they have a great opportunity for resetting what working conditions are. Set up flexible working arrangements so that working moms and parents alike can feel balance their family and work responsibilities. Train managers to recognize the unconscious biases they may have with working moms and how to create a supportive environment for returning parents.
Daycare is one of the greatest stressors in a working moms’ life. If possible, provide onsite daycare or subsidies to reduce this stress. Alternatively, set up partnerships with daycares to offer a referral program. This can help parents lock in a spot for daycare, which can seriously alleviate the stress of securing a spot in the queue for an existing daycare.
Finally, train senior leaders and managers to ensure that they are not letting their unconscious bias of “the good mother” creep into their behaviours. Encourage them to have open conversations with working moms about the types of projects and opportunities they want to pursue. Do not make assumptions about whether or not they can take on a special project just because they have kids.
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