Employers, It's Time To Prove You Value Working Moms
It’s time for companies to move out of the dark ages in how they employ working mothers.
Most professional women work in business environments that were built for, and by, men. (You can thank me for that chestnut the next time you put on a sweater in your ice box of an office in July).
Despite the fact that women comprise half the workforce today, many employers are behind the times in accommodating women, and working mothers in particular. In my work as a consultant focused on gender and inclusion, it's mothers who report in our diagnostic assessments that they simply can’t compete for the highest roles in a work world that still favors face time, number of hours worked, ability to do significant travel, and uninterrupted tenure as promotion determinants. While women’s participation at work has boomed, in many cases, their role at home hasn’t lessened enough to ease the strain.
As a mom of twins, I know the experience of motherhood is often anything but linear and simple. It’s no wonder then, that when we combine it with working, daily ambiguities and tensions grow, often about where our attention and physical, intellectual and mental energy is most needed. This taxing, everyday push-and-pull is a common reality for many working women.
Despite this strain, research suggests that mothers are more productive as a group than childless women. Add to this that a woman’s overall job satisfaction is strongly correlated to the family friendliness of her employer. And, families even benefit from well-adjusted mothers: a mother’s mental health, particularly during the first few years of a child’s life, tends to have a cascading effect on her kids. These are only some of the reasons why it should be a no-brainer for organizations to show they value mothers.
This Mother’s Day, I want to call out some corporate practices that can actually make a difference for working moms. The practices below show how employers are experimenting with some new approaches - and making bold statements along the way:
Paid maternity leave: Yes, you’ve heard it but it bears repeating. Again and again. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. remains the only country in the developed world that does not mandate employers offer paid leave for new mothers. That’s why Johnson and Johnson’s move to offer 17 weeks of leave, where a woman doesn’t miss a single paycheck, is a standout.
Graduated maternity returns: One study found that 70% of women feel anxious about taking a career break. For many, that may be because there’s an expectation things should click right back into place when they return from leave (a setup that is not for everyone). At Procter & Gamble, new mothers are allowed to gradually increase or adjust their hours, work from home, compress their schedules, or take leaves of absence (in addition to receiving peer mentoring when they come back from maternity leave).
Facilitated breastfeeding: A whopping 92% of new moms experience stress about breastfeeding related issues. And that stress doesn’t magically disappear after you go to work. That’s why it’s heartening to see a trend started by companies like IBM, who pay for moms to ship breast milk home whenever they travel for business.
Acknowledgement of special needs kids: 12% of babies are born premature, and 2.8 billion kids between ages of 5-15 have a disability or special need. At McKinsey, the management consulting firm offers employees raising kids with special needs (including preemies and multiples) 20 extra paid days of parental leave as well as an affinity network, where employees can obtain peer support and guidance from a firm-contracted doctor.
Part time roles with teeth: I can personally attest that shifting to part-time work was probably the most freeing thing I ever did as a new mom. One study found that moms who work part-time have significantly high levels of job satisfaction. Positively, Cigna, the health services company, has created an employment model that meets its business needs while offering challenging part-time, remote, and flexible arranged opportunities to its workers.
Help with retirement funds: Because women are twice as likely to work part-time and more likely to leave and re-enter the workplace than men, these variables among others, can hurt their 401(k) retirement savings. Under federal rules, part-time employees must work at least 1,000 hours during a 12-month period, or about 20 hours per week, to be eligible for a 401(k). One interesting practice that Uber has adopted to get around this regulation is to offer part-time drivers - technically independent contractors rather than employees - an IRA or Roth IRA through a specially arranged partnership with Betterment. This can potentially help “gig economy” or other workers with interrupted service, to close gaps in retirement savings.
Some rare companies get it – but the broader workplace is ripe for a change in design.
A full 45% of women want to become senior management, leaders or CEOs but for many, they won’t be able to achieve that without some flexing on the part of their employers.
It’s time now to move out of the dark ages in how we employ working mothers. To finally say we see you, we value you, we will go to lengths to keep you.