Supporting Working Mothers Preserves the Future Workforce

According to a recent LinkedIn poll, nearly half of working mothers take a career break, and 61 percent reported that they faced challenges when trying to reenter the workforce. COVID-19 – which has led to widespread reliance on remote work and virtual school – has exacerbated the challenges of being a working mother, as noted in The Wall Street Journal.

While families with different structures – including same-sex couples, single parents, or multi-generational households – all face unique challenges, women tend to carry the lion’s share of balancing childcare and jobs.

The good news is that there are several ways employers can sustain a robust, diverse workforce and reach their succession planning goals while helping women stay in the workforce after having children:

Ensure equal pay. About 70 percent of husbands in heterosexual couples earned more than their working wives in 2018, according to Census Bureau data analyzed in The Wall Street Journal. Because of this gap in pay, women are more likely to leave their careers to raise children while men stay in more lucrative jobs. Additionally, equal pay benefits single or divorced mothers, who may lack even the option to take a career break; according to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, closing the gender wage gap could lift half of single mothers out of poverty. (For ways to achieve equal pay, check out last week’s post.)

Strengthen maternity and paternity leave benefits. UNICEF conducted a study of the world’s richest countries and found that the United States was the only country on their list with no national law guaranteeing paid maternity or paternity leave of any duration. That’s zero days of guaranteed leave for both mothers and fathers. Of course, many American workplaces offer paid parental leave – roughly 40 percent, according to a Mercer survey. But a lack of national legislation can lead to disparities in the paid family leave available to employees in different workplaces, indicating that more work remains to broadly foster a culture of supporting new parents.

Subsidize childcare. Though the pandemic initially upended normal childcare services, some regions have begun to reopen facilities such as day-care centers. By making childcare more financially feasible, employers would enable working mothers to stay in the workforce while knowing that their children are being looked after. But according to data from Willis Towers Watson, only 6% of employers subsidize childcare, demonstrating major room for progress.

If working mothers decide to temporarily leave the workforce, business leaders can ease their reentry by developing creative ways to invest in their talent and develop their skills. The Harvard Business Review suggests that one way to help mothers reenter the workforce is to establish “returnships,” which train candidates in skills that lead to a permanent position.

To make workplaces fair and equitable, women need the full support of employers and policymakers, no matter their career and parenting choices.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how to increase diversity in organizations by reducing bias against job candidates with degrees from historically Black colleges and universities – as well as bias against those without college degrees at all.  

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