“I worry that Moms are going to sign up for flexibility but they’re not going to formally change the way that offices are managed. Or have the defined hours for employees to come together and updated technology. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to design flexibility, so that you don’t create second class citizens.” said Reshma Saujani, Author, Activist and Non-Profit Leader.
The shift to more remote work, if implemented well, has the potential to revolutionize gender equity. Because pre-pandemic, so many Mothers were constrained by limited childcare and bandwidth. And they avoided jobs with heavy travel, long commutes or captive hours. Which unfortunately, in many companies, means being less visible or promotable.
The pandemic has dragged employers into the future. Sort of. Remote doesn’t work for every field. Nor does it solve all of the problems with traditional work. But the need to support people’s full lives, with flexibility, isn’t going away. And it’s not only childcare. Millions of workers also care for their parents and partners. Or want to care for themselves.
So, organizations that are serious about retaining talent, particularly female talent, need to embrace inclusive practices.
Recognize Moms as Part of your DEI Effort
Reshma said, “Moms are 86% of women in the workforce under the age of 45. And if we build more ethical workplaces, it benefits everybody.” Despite how often we see press about diversity efforts, women and people of color remain largely absent from leadership. It’s starkest in the fields with the most influence over our lives – like education, technology, healthcare and government. Because most women end up becoming Mothers, if the workplace isn’t caregiver-friendly, it’s not female-friendly. So, Reshma’s organization, the Marshall Plan for Moms, published a playbook and Working Moms Bill of Rights, to help demystify workplace support.
Spoiler Alert, There’s No Magic Required
The playbook highlights the importance of equal pay and benefits, living wages and getting enough paid time off to heal, from illness or a new baby. And covers other fundamentals, like having flexibility and predictable schedules. Reshma said, “It’s shocking to me that when millennials came to the office, employers got out the bean bags and the popcorn and did everything to accommodate them. But they never accommodated Moms. Now we have a second bite at the apple.”
A lot of Mothers still haven’t returned to the workforce post-Covid. So, they also recommend employers build thoughtful on-ramps back in. The Motherhood penalty costs women, children, and the economy billions. And Employers unwittingly set the tone for what plays out at home.
What’s Sanctioned at Work, Gets Sanctioned at Home
Reshma said, “When we were dating, my husband did the dishes, laundry and cooked. And then the minute that we had kids, everything shifted. And I think it started because I took more leave than he did. Suddenly, I was doing 70% and he was doing 30%.” Many couples share housework until they become parents.
Reshma explained, “And if we were both forced to stay at home, to navigate the domestic work between us, I wonder whether if that would have changed it.” The lack of sufficient paternity leave often discourages men from taking it. Even when it’s available.
So, Make Policies Gender Neutral
Reshma said, “One of our other recommendations is designing workplaces that promote gender equality at home. Think about the way most companies have parental leave, where Moms get six months and Dads get two months. Why is there a difference?” Gender neutral policies free Moms and empower hands-on Dads.
But change is hard, for people and businesses. And modern work is modeled after not-so-modern ideals. So, work culture needs a makeover. But how can organizations reinvent, after decades of unchecked access to biased systems? As with any habit change, the way to improve, is to track the outcomes.
And Measure, Measure, Measure the Impact
Reshma explained, “There is a Motherhood penalty. You’ve got to root it out, audit what’s happening in your company and hold yourself accountable.” Organizations measure everything else, from revenue to return on investment. And creating a Mom-friendly climate, means gathering data and noticing the cultural norms.
Reshma added, “And we have to demand it. I don’t think you get to be on the best workplace for Moms list, if your Dads are not doing the same thing. Companies don’t get credit for having generous parental leave policies, unless they can demonstrate that the men in their workplace, actually take advantage of it.” Exactly. She added, “We’ve learned that if you don’t hold employers accountable, they get to release these wonderful statements. And then nothing changes in terms of equality and diversity in the workforce.” It has been at least a decade of large companies having diversity and inclusion initiatives. But as outlined by McKinsey, there have been only modest gains to women’s representation in the workforce.
Yes, Support Better Public Infrastructure
In the Marshall Plan study, 74% of Mothers believe it’s ‘very important’ for their employers to advocate for Mom-friendly public policies, like increasing the minimum wage. Reshma explained, “There are some real obvious policies that have to change, like universal childcare. And we need paid leave and the child tax credit to be permanent.” Although it’s outside of their direct control, business leaders have some sway over the legislative process.
But reimagining how work happens doesn’t rest solely on government policies. It’s the subtle things, like how people are treated. And what’s modeled, rewarded or tolerated, defines the employee experience. Reshma added, “In the workplace every person, in every culture, has to do this work on their own. And it doesn’t matter if you only have two employees. How are you building that culture that accommodates and supports Moms?”
But Everyone Can Champion Moms at Work
Moms are wildly productive. But managing the unglamorous work at home, like machines, becomes a career liability. There are many reasons Mothers are underrepresented in leadership. But careers don’t grow when contributions are invisible. And women are still less likely to get high profile assignments, recognition or sponsorship.
And Reshma said everyone can help amplify Moms, “It’s the everyday celebration. Whether that’s on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or in your internal newsletter. Those stories get out.” Yes!
Unraveling systemic bias takes effort. Lots of it. Although many organizations have good intentions, most still lack equal pay, promotions, or diverse leaders. It’s terrible for women and abysmal for women of color. So don’t wait. Whatever role you play, you can help set a new tone for how Moms are seen, respected and valued at work.
Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Reshma Saujani!
Reshma Saujani is a leading activist and the founder of Girls Who Code and the Marshall Plan for Moms. And she’s the Author of Brave Not Perfect and soon to be released, Pay Up. She has spent more than a decade building movements to fight for women and girls’ economic empowerment, working to close the gender gap in the tech sector, and most recently advocating for policies to support moms impacted by the pandemic. She is the mother of two boys, Shaan, 6, and Sai, 1.
Tags: Career Development for Moms, diversity equity inclusion, gender equality, Moms Career Growth, professional development, work life integration for Moms, Working Families