These days, 71% of U.S. women with children work, as do 92% of fathers (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017). Despite how common it is to have both a family and a job, organization-wide policies, managerial behaviors, and office norms still often make work and family life tough – especially for women.
Working mothers are paid less: “9% less than their childless female counterparts and 29% less than working fathers” (National Women’s Law Center, 2017). Managers also hold moms to much harsher performance and punctuality standards (Correll, 2010). Also, once they become parents, women are frequently seen as less professionally competent, while their male peers are considered more reliable and desirable employees (Budig, 2014).
What Works for Working Moms: Parent-friendly companies do more than avoiding discrimination lawsuits and installing designer lactation rooms – though we certainly recommend doing both, in addition to the 12 more heavy-hitting actions below.
Our recommendations are based on conducting dozens of frank conversations with over 20 working moms, a survey of online corporate moms including those in the Chairman Mom online community, findings from the latest research on Women in the Workplace, and an expert session we recently produced in San Francisco on “The Parent-Friendly Workplace” featuring an interdisciplinary panel of executives, researchers, and thought leaders from Fortune 500 and startup worlds, tech, health, law, and research (specifically: Visa, McKinsey & Company, TravelBank, Fox Rothschild, Healthline, and Cleo).
Good, paid maternity leave.
It’s the most important, yet only 12% of U.S. non-governmental working women have it. They key here is to ensure equal, company-wide treatment before, during, and after maternity leave by making any policy enterprise-wide, not just manager-by-manager. For example, Vodafone has a company-wide policy of a 4-day work-week for 6 months after a maternity leave (Working Mother, 2018).
Child care solutions.
From on-site centers to subsidies for good care, plus emergency/last-minute options. Patagonia employees have had an on-site child care center since 1983; see their very inspiring site, with videos of working parents having lunch on-site with their kids. Last year, Starbucks began offering 10 days/year of back-up child care to all its U.S. employees through Care.com. A hot trend in this area is co-working sites like The Wing (NYC), Equal Play, and the Workaround that are offering quality, on-site child care for co-working ladybosses.
Guilt-free freedom to set one’s own working hours – as long as projects are being done on time and up to standards. (It’s certainly harder for employers to define and track an employee’s contribution rather than hours spent behind a desk, but companies that learn to manage to KPIs and results are clearly much better off in ways that go well beyond managing workers who are also parents.) Managers often say that working moms get their work done much faster – and better – than other workers; moms report more motivation to finish projects instead of socializing or YouTube-watching and that produce better work as a mother in order to keep their flexible/remote accommodations.
Remote working policies.
While recently we’ve seen polarizing debates about telecommuting, there is strong support for the idea that employees who are allowed some remote flexibility are less likely to call in sick or quit, and are happier, more productive, more loyal, and less expensive for the company. The most mom-inclusive companies only permit people to schedule in-person-only meetings when in-the-flesh contact is mandatory, like for a big new client pitch. On trend in this category are those robots that allow remote workers’ “telepresence” to be felt.
Incentives for men, too. Mom-friendly companies encourage men to take ample time for parenting — from taking leave to doing pick-up/drop-off, popping out for school moments, being home for dinner — and to showcase it proudly. Ben Waber – President and CEO of tech company, Humanyze – mandates a paternity leave of 12 weeks with full pay to be taken (or it’s lost) anytime within one year. He explains, “Women will take off more time, leaving them farther behind in their careers than men, maintaining the current gender imbalance in promotions and pay” (Qz.com).
Compassionate treatment & support.
It’s not a very popular word in business. Working women tell us they look at at how their company treated them while pregnant as an indicator of if their company will be understanding once they have babies and small children – or if they should find a company that will be. Dena Fradette, experienced an unsupportive environment during pregnancy and then as a working new mother; this fueled her to switch companies and create the parent-friendly environment of her dreams at her new company (TravelBank).Outsource compassionate benefits; San Francisco-based Cleo provides companies with a set of benefits especially for employees transitioning from pregnancy, to parenthood, and back to work again.
Available to dial down hours (and salary), but not ambitions. It should go without saying, but many companies haven’t fully digested the math: a 50% schedule doesn’t mean someone is giving each case or project 50% of the effort, intelligence, or time; it means she (picture a lawyer or social worker) dedicates the same high level of effort, intelligence, and time – just to a fewer number of cases. To this end, companies like IBM have created programs whereby any performing employee can vary their hours or responsibilities – based on external “life events” such as elder care, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and/or parenting (Working Mother, 2018) without sacrificing their career trajectory.
Assuming that new moms will return full force.
75 percent of working women go back to work full-time after having kids (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014), with 1 in 4 new moms going back just 10 days after childbirth (PL+US, 2018). As a part of maternity leave planning, good companies mandate professional planning sessions for all leave participants, to include clear long-term career goals, objectives, targets, and mentors. Learning that someone is aiming to be a CIO or CEO helps everyone take her career more seriously.
Shifting from shaming to honoring. Women often have complex and personal feelings around the work/family balance, so, like religion and political preference, it’s best to keep the topic of “how people manage it all” out of the boardroom. More concretely, don’t ask women questions you wouldn’t ask men (a good rule in general), like “How can you bear to miss all those moments in your baby’s life?” Even better: shift from thinking about working moms as a problem to a modern reality and asset. In the (thrilling!) 2018 book about being a woman and a mother on the tech scene “The Uterus is a Feature, Not a Bug,” Sarah Lacy says working moms “are more focused, decisive, and stronger than any other force. Working mothers aren’t a liability; they are assets.”
Continuing to offer interesting work, not a mommy track.
Research shows that women are most likely to leave a job because it’s not stimulating or offering enough opportunity for growth, not to focus on the family (McKinsey and LeanIn.org, 2018). In today’s tight labor market – especially in tech – working mothers can often find another good company that will give them the juicy stretch projects and high profile opportunities they crave.
An “understanding manager” is not enough.
Being able to shift to part-time, work remotely, or pop out mid-day to attend an important family moment shouldn’t depend on having a supportive manager who “gets it;” good companies have enterprise-wide workplace policies, programs, and practices.
Data-backed clarity on what’s working and what’s not.
Applicable to all of their employee groups. Parent-friendly companies proactively monitor and surface patterns in the data and work to enact new policy and/or new guidelines for management. Review HR data to find any differences in hiring and/or pay/promotions between working moms and other types of employees. And, splice the employee engagement survey data by parents and non-parents to red flag any issues. Ensure all fixes result in true and sustainable company-wide changes, not just recommendations.
At 64 million, U.S. working moms are a force – and a complete normality (NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, 2018). If companies want loyal, efficient, engaged employees, they need to ensure their workers who also have families are set up to succeed and grow – or else they will take their skills and ambitions to a company that allows them to succeed at family and career. And, as parent-friendly companies grow in number, job-switching to one has become an increasingly realistic option for more working moms who take their careers and their families seriously.