How Employers Are Killing Opportunities for Working Mothers to Advance (and what you can do about it)

career development d&i strategies inclusive leadership managing working parents motherhood smart and flexible working May 23, 2018

We recently celebrated Mother’s Day here in Geneva, Switzerland. Grateful children and dads took mums out to lunch, bought them flowers, ran them baths, and made them cards to show her how special she is to them and what a great job she does in the home.

But what about the job she does at work? Does she ever receive recognition for her contributions and support for her needs? Does she spend her working hours feeling guilty - for having to leave early and pick up her kids or for leaving them in the first place - when she should be feeling like a supermum for all the things she is able to juggle on a daily basis?

Mothers are a valuable asset to any organisation (note: Fathers are too but we’re focusing on mothers here). After returning to work, most mums have evolved into super efficient multitasking champions. In the transition to motherhood, they have had to learn to be super organised, plan to make plans, make preparations the night before, and always have a backup. Employers may find that a team member who becomes a mum also becomes one of the most productive members of their workforce.

However employers should understand that mothers have different needs than they did before. They require a different kind of support, and they may need more flexibility. Too many employers have ‘back to work’ initiatives that fall short of what’s required to successfully reintegrate a Mother back into the team, and too few provide ongoing support.

This article is not a ‘How To’ but aims to provide food for thought, and give you some ideas as to what may be missing in your workplace. Here are some of the key things that Working mothers need to succeed...

Recognition and Fair Distribution Of Work

When you taking into account paid work and family responsibilities, working Mothers work the longest hours of anyone in the world. Women spend two-and-a-half hours more than men on unpaid work each day (source: HuffPost) and most of these additional hours are spent on family responsibilities and caring for children. Working Mums not only need recognition for the extra work that they shoulder, but the chance to share that work more equitably. It’s important that you make sure your Working Mums feel that their efforts are appreciated and that they’re not being overloaded with an unreasonable volume of tasks.

A Safe Place To Express Themselves

Work is often a place that makes you repress or ignore your emotions as a mum, and especially the love that you feel for your children. Mums want to live in a world that does force them to compartmentalize their lives, emotions, and identities as Mothers from their personas as workers. It is your responsibility as an employer to create a culture where being a parent is celebrated and not judged.

Rewarding and Challenging Work

For too many women, flexibility and a desire to integrate work and family life comes at the cost of rewarding work, especially the kind that might lead to greater pay, career advancement or leadership opportunities. We often hear from mums who accepted a downgraded role so they could get part-time or flexible hours that allow them to spend time with their children. These trade-offs doesn’t just short-change women in terms of their personal career satisfaction, they short-change societies who lose talent, perspective and leadership with true economic and social value.

A Voice

Working mums deserve to be heard as much as any other employees, but they often find that they no longer have a voice in work situations. As documentarian Jennifer Siebel Newsom so powerfully puts it in her essay “A Revolution, Stalled,” that lack of voice comes from the fact that so many of them are consumed by caretaking responsibilities or basic survival, forced to choose between work and family, or too pressured by lack of time to engage in broader leadership roles. As Siebel Newsom continues, “We are missing the voice of motherhood at the tables of leadership because we continue to limit the choices of working women. Consequently, our entire society is deprived of what could be the most innovative, creative, strategic, and moving ideas of our time.”

If you feel you would like to speak to a coach or trainer to explore any thoughts/ideas you may have after reading this article or hear some suggestions from an expert with experience in this area, please email [email protected]ions.

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