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On #MothersMonday, Let’s Reimagine How Companies Support Working Mothers

Eight ways companies can support working mothers, retain talent, and stay competitive through economic recovery.

By: Christine Johnson, Senior Manager, JFF

“At home on Sunday you’ll celebrate Mother’s Day with your family. When you come back to work on Monday it can feel like you have to check your motherhood at the door. What if instead we acknowledge it, celebrate it, and help corporate culture adapt to it?” — Gayatri Agnew, Founder, Mother’s Monday

Let’s Embrace and Celebrate Working Motherhood

On Monday, May 10, women across the country will celebrate a new holiday by showing up at work. The date marks the second annual observance of Mother’s Monday, a holiday established in 2020 to recognize the increased pressure the COVID-19 pandemic placed on working moms. Pioneered by Gayatri Agnew — a mother, movement builder, senior director of philanthropy for a Fortune 500 company, and city council member, the movement and holiday are focused on tackling gender inequality and reimagining the role companies can play in supporting mothers.

Ceilings Shattered Amid Major Setbacks

Over the past year, we’ve seen women shattering the glass ceiling at some of the highest levels in our society — just last month, Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi made history as the first women to lead the Senate and the House during a presidential address to Congress. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t note another critical moment in working women’s history: women, in particular working mothers, are leaving or being forced out of the workforce in droves. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it magnified long-standing inequities around women and caregiving responsibilities. On average, women spend 15 hours more per week on domestic responsibilities than men. To compensate for that fact, one in four women considered downshifting her career or leaving the workforce entirely at the start of the pandemic, and approximately one-third of the 2.3 million women who did exit the workforce cited child care demands as the primary reason for their departure. These numbers are even more drastic for working mothers of color who, in addition to experiencing the caregiving crisis, are three times more likely to be grieving the loss of a loved one due to COVID-19.

Decades of Progress at Risk

Unless meaningful action is taken to support working mothers, this crisis could stall, or even reverse, decades of hard-won progress for women in the workforce, and everyone will suffer — individuals, families, and society. By spending just two years out of the workforce, a working mother can lose between $300,000 to $400,000 in total earnings over her lifetime; those lost wages, combined with the gender pay gap, mean lower cumulative retirement savings as well. Women make up almost half of the entire U.S. workforce — mothers are now the equal, primary, or sole earners in 40 percent of U.S. families — so by squandering their economic potential, we stand to place a significant strain on the economy and hinder any chance of a swift and equitable recovery following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Visionary Leaders Can Take Action

JFF’s Recover Stronger Corporate Coalition has recommended policies and best practices for companies to support working parents; on #MothersMonday, we’re focusing our recommendations on working moms. Here are eight ways to support them, from low- or no-cost efforts to high-investment, high-impact options:

1. Recognize and celebrate Mother’s Monday

  • Make the working mothers in your company feel special; recognize their challenges, and appreciate their efforts. Lift up employee voices and experiences through storytelling. Encourage attendance at the online Mother’s Monday celebration event, and learn how to host your own event.

2. Create support groups for working moms

  • Establish an inclusive employee resource group to help build a network for moms, new and seasoned, to share experiences, stories, and resources. This can also aid in establishing an important feedback mechanism to help your company make practice improvements to better support working mothers.

3. Implement flextime, and ensure your company policies don’t hinder its usage

  • Flexibility in how and when work is completed helps working moms be more productive, and enables them to balance their work and home lives. Be sure to audit your other company policies for alignment so as not to induce other negative work consequences, such as wage penalties, negative performance reviews, or fewer promotion opportunities.

4. Foster returnship programs

  • At the start of the pandemic, the vast majority of employees who were laid off or took furloughs or unpaid leaves were working mothers. And, as the pandemic dragged on over the summer and into the school year, many more women were expelled from the workforce. As we begin to close in on economic recovery, it is imperative to give mothers who left or were forced out of the workforce easy onramps to merge back in. “Returnships,” or return-to-work programs, can help displaced working mothers brush up on skills, gain relevant experience, and make a return less daunting.

5. Address the pandemic gap year bias

  • Train talent acquisition teams to spot pandemic gap years on resumes and eliminate related instances of bias. Craft job descriptions that outline your company’s supportive stance and approach to addressing this issue. Train managers on how to effectively approach the subject in interviews.

6. Help offset the costs of child care

  • Implementing or expanding child care assistance benefits can enable women to reenter the workforce more easily and stay in the workforce post-recovery.

7. Offer paid leaves to retain working mothers

  • If you’re not yet offering paid maternity leave to all female employees following the birth or adoption of a child — start. Beyond that, since women disproportionately carry the weight of caregiving responsibilities not only for children, but also for aging parents or sick family members, offering paid and benefited family leave will contribute to female employee retention, not to mention improved well-being and reduced stress.

8. Offer paid paternity leave to working fathers and normalize its usage

  • While it might seem contradictory to close out a list of things companies can do to support working mothers with a call for paternity leave, it is in fact a great step companies can take to support working moms. When fathers take paternity leave, it helps shift the perception that newborn and infant caregiving is a female’s responsibility. It also equips fathers to better handle things such as future sick days and doctor’s appointments which again allows for shared responsibility of caregiving over time.

Solutions That Benefit Mothers Benefit Business

At this moment, companies have an unprecedented opportunity to help shape future workforce participation for working mothers by enacting practices to support and normalize working motherhood. We can no longer perpetuate the idea that working mothers should check motherhood at the door on Monday mornings; instead, we must embrace the value that working mothers add to the workplace while respecting and supporting their needs as mothers. To all the working mothers out there, currently employed or currently displaced, happy Mother’s Monday.

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JFF

JFF

Jobs for the Future (JFF) drives transformation of the American workforce and education systems to achieve equitable economic advancement for all. www.jff.org