Creating a Mother-friendly Workplace

March 8 is International Women’s Day! This year’s theme: #EmbraceEquity.

Today’s Engaged HR blog addresses an equity-related topic that is predominantly relevant to women: the challenges faced by mothers in the workplace. As equity is about removing barriers, this conversation is about removing the barriers specific to mothers managing the dual workload of family and career. And yes, those barriers still exist!

The Great Resignation saw women exiting the workforce at nearly twice the rate of men. Approximately one third of all mothers in the workplace have left their jobs or decreased their hours since March 2020. Now, the workforce retains the lowest proportion of women in more than three decades. Why?

Mothers in the workplace

Firstly, childcare. The ‘choice’ to stay at home rather than work full-time is a privilege, one that not all mothers can afford to make. During the pandemic, schools and daycares were shut down along with everything else, and many daycare centers did not reopen. Even when childcare is available, it is expensive, consuming a significant portion of a working mother’s take-home wage.

Secondly, the “motherhood penalty.” This term was coined by sociologists Budig and England to describe disadvantages mothers face in the workplace after having children. One key aspect of this study is perceived incompetence, or the often-unconscious bias that women with children are less competent than their equally qualified, childless peers. The study specifically addressed female consultants with identical resumes: those who admitted to being mothers were regularly perceived to be less competent. When studying working fathers, a similar trend was not found.

Finally, lacking growth opportunities. Many mothers find themselves passed over for promotion or learning opportunities due to their family status. Often, managers believe they are being considerate in doing this; they assume that the mother would rather avoid the increased workload the opportunity would bring. What they have forgotten is that family status is a protected human rights category in Canada, so overlooking qualified candidates for this reason is discrimination.

Now that we know these issues exist, what can we do about them?

Here are some ideas to provide a supportive workplace for the mothers in your organization. These ideas are also relevant to working fathers and other guardians of young children, so be sure to consider those groups when implementing any of the suggestions below!

  1. Provide flexibility in your work schedule to allow for school pickups and drop-offs and afterschool activities. Mothers are particularly interested in virtual or hybrid roles that decrease the financial burden of regular childcare. Whether virtual or in-person, encourage employees to disconnect during off hours to spend time with their families.
  2. Nearly half of working mothers state that childcare is the reason they hesitate to return to the workplace or simply do not return at all, so support your staff in obtaining childcare. This support can take many forms, including financial support, building relationships with nearby daycare centres, or even providing on-site daycare facilities.
  3. As your office workplace increases its virtual and in-person social activities post-pandemic, offer family-friendly opportunities to connect. Consider an outdoor picnic or barbeque, a boardgame tournament, or a multifamily meetup at a nearby park.
  4. Find opportunities to welcome children into the workplace. This may not be feasible for all workplaces, especially those with high security or confidentiality measures, but in many cases a family tour of the office is possible. If your office is remote or hybrid, invite children to say ‘hello’ on your videoconference calls. Consider job shadowing opportunities or take your kid to work days to help older children learn more about their mother’s world.
  5. Most importantly, acknowledge the individuality of each member of your workforce. Take the time to get to know your direct reports, their career goals, and aspirations. Offer advancement and growth opportunities to all staff, not just your child-free high performers.

Your Engaged Assignment: This week, consider how you are supporting mothers and other working caregivers in your organization. What formal or informal structures are in place to show these groups that they, their families, and their contributions are welcome and valued? Interested in adapting your policies or creating something new? Call us, we can help!