Being a working mother can be empowering – from feeling a sense of purpose and pride to having more financial independence to being a role model for children and peers. But being a working mother isn’t always easy, and many are familiar with stories of sacrifices, stresses, and decisions that can slow down career growth.
While there are some things mothers can do to support themselves such as planning ahead, prioritizing, or asking for help, there are also things many organizations do to better support some of their biggest assets.
With Mother’s Day coming up in the US and Canada this weekend, we decided to dive into this topic and explore what some organizations are doing to create more equity for mothers in the workplace.
According to the 2021 Maternity Leave Experience Report, 40% of mothers have considered quitting their jobs upon returning to work after maternity leave. Women leaving the workforce – whether they are mothers or not – is bad for business. Not only do they bring in unique perspectives and diversity of thought, but studies have also shown that women in the workplace are key for organizations’ bottom lines. In fact, the Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on their boards financially outperform companies with a lower representation according to Investment Monitor.
With the business case clear and the employee experience case obvious, what are organizations doing to actively support working mothers and create equitable cultures for all?
Let’s look at policies, programs, and people.
POLICIES: Some organizations develop new policies or align existing policies to reinforce the environment mothers need to feel supported. Specifically, providing a flexible work policy that enables mothers to balance their priorities outside of work, while continuing to deliver on their work responsibilities. Depending on the business, that can include work location and work hours:
- Work Location: Working from home has lessened the burden of getting children to daycare, school, or over to a caregiver, while also increasing productivity.
PROGRAMS: While policies provide guardrails to guide behaviors and actions, programs offer a structured approach to supporting working mothers and advancing equity. Specifically, some companies have adopted programs geared towards providing advocacy and support of physical and mental health:
- Creating Advocacy: Organizations can choose to establish a program where a case manager or an HR rep is assigned to mothers who are returning to work after maternity leave. This type of program/advisor can provide information on how the organization or the role changed during their leave, offer guidance on how to navigate the return to work, balance the mothers’ home and work responsibilities, and/or encourage the mother to advocate for themselves and ask for support where needed. Other programs to consider are implementing a mentor/buddy system and/or training.
- Supporting Physical and Mental Health: While many organizations offer programs in support of their employees’ health and well-being, some go a step further and ensure working mothers are aware of the programs that might be relevant to them. Additionally, some organizations offer pregnancy and postpartum support in finding childcare or emergency/backup care.
PEOPLE: While there are examples of policies and programs that can be put in place, having a supportive corporate culture that promotes the well-being of its mothers is critical to creating an equitable work environment. Culture starts with people, and organizations must build a culture where working mothers have equal opportunity to achieve their potential. A strong culture encourages empathy, promotes psychological safety, and most importantly, embeds trust and respect. Here’s how some organizations lean into these characteristics and build cultures that support working mothers:
- Encouraging Empathy and Building Trust: Empathy is a cultural component that everyone benefits from. When leaders empathize with their employees and understand what they are feeling and experiencing, they can better build trust and gain respect. Encourage leaders to share their own stories or train them on how to be advocates for working moms. This will empower people to open up about what they might be struggling with and where they could use some extra support from their organization and team.
- Promoting Psychological Safety: A psychologically safe workplace is where employees feel safe to speak up and bring forward new ideas (even if they go against the grain), without fear of retribution. Organizations can create a psychologically safe culture where working mothers can speak up and ask for what they need. For example, they may need to step out during the workday to take their child to an appointment or pick them up from school, and it’s important that they feel supported to do so.
There are endless benefits for organizations that take the time to support working mothers. By looking at the programs and policies that are in place – and building a culture of empathy and trust – organizations can generate ideas on how the company can embrace greater equity for all and ensure working mothers are supported and encouraged to better balance their priorities.