“I need to get back to work,” a new client, Sarah, told me over the phone.
She had just put her newborn down for the night, and was ready to find a job that fit her life as a new mother. She continued, “I have been applying to jobs, and can’t seem to find one that fits. It feels like one dead end after another.”
From hearing this, we set out to find her a job that aligned with not only her career goals, but also her goals at home. The reality is that the fight to find a new job or return to your old one after having a baby is more of a struggle than people would think. Once you have the job, work integration isn’t any easier.
In a landmark study, researchers sent out fictitious applications to employers, some with subtle references to having children, and some without. The study revealed that the applications that didn’t reference children were twice as likely to get called in for an interview.
As progressive as companies and employees may feel, a worldwide 2018 study found the main factor contributing to the idea that women shouldn’t work was the belief that children and families will suffer if a mother works.
These myths need to be put to rest. Because the truth is, 41% of workers are parents, and single mothers in the workforce have increased by 4% in recent years. Mothers in the workforce aren’t going anywhere, and their motherly experience can be of extraordinary benefit to employers. In fact, 91% of working Americans from a recent survey said mothers bring unique skills like communication, multitasking and remaining calm under fire, to leadership that others don’t…That’s why it is time for employers to welcome moms in, not shut them out.
Here are 4 ways managers and employers, can help take the pressure off of working mothers and lend their support:
1. Provide adequate pumping space.
Breastfeeding for the first six months, to one year has an array of health benefits for both the mother and the baby. But the pressure to perform without any “distractions,” often sways mothers away from continuing to pump when they head back into the office. This results in babies being fed formula and being put at risk for short term and long term health concerns. Babies who are breastfed for the first six to twelve months have a 20% reduction in risk for leukimia, up to 30% reduction in obesity, 63% reduction in gastrointestinal infections. Create a supportive environment to help the next generations grow up with healthy opportunities.
The reality is that the companies that create a supportive culture for continued breastfeeding help both new mothers, and the company as a whole. According to the business case for breastfeeding, employees from companies that have lactation support programs reported a 94.2% retention rate. Why? Well first let’s explore the confounding variable that by having lactation support, the company clearly is demonstrating an interest in supporting their employees who are mothers. With that, is likely to come other benefits that support their retention. That being said, a company’s choice to provide breastfeeding support translates into higher job satisfaction, improved morale, and better productivity.
Not to mention that by law, companies with 50 or more employees are required to have a dedicated pumping space and allow time for mothers to pump. Take pride in supporting your employees and invest in building a peaceful space with comfortable nursing chairs, a refrigerator, sink access, and adequate privacy. These small investments will go a long way in helping your mothering staff get back to work without the stress of pumping.
2. Encourage community.
After returning to work from maternity leave, working mothers often find themselves in a pattern of having to prove their worth and competency. Research supports that men in the workplace are valued based on their potential, while women are evaluated based upon their past performance. This perspective pushes coworkers apart, as opposed to bringing them together.
In order to build a better environment for mothers returning to the workforce, implement a parent-employee group. This will be a resource where co-working parents can connect, share resources and find community with other parents while working. Instead of hiding that they have to pick their children up from daycare, encourage staff to carpool and find a commonality that will help them work together better on their next project. Join the top companies like Goldman Sachs, Abbott and Google who are creating communities for day care and health support on site.
Use your company as a means to educate employees not only on their career path, but also on how to manage it along with their life as a parent. At least 60% of Fortune 500 companies have started to offer some sort of parent education program and are seeing productive results. When your business becomes a place that holds solutions to your employees work-life balance challenges, such as parenting, loyalty increases and employees feel more understood and valued not just their work output, but for who they are.
3. Update your parental leave policy.
In the past three years, paternity leave in the U.S. has increased from 4 weeks to 6 weeks. This is great for fathers and families as a whole, but the average length of paid maternity leave has remained stuck at 10 weeks. When you compare this to the 20 weeks women, on average, receive in Europe (61 weeks in Canada), it’s time employers in the United States evaluate the long term impact a limited maternity leave has.
With more than 21% of pregnancies being through c-section (the rate is only increasing) and the recovery being a minimum of six weeks, that 10 weeks of leave doesn’t provide too much wiggle room to fully recover not only from surgery but also a major life change.
Along with the physical recovery from giving birth, mothers are waking up in the middle of the night for feedings. Most babies don’t sleep through the night (6 to 8 hours) until they are three months (13 weeks) or older. This means mothers are forced to return to work while still waking up multiple times in the middle of the night. This state of exhaustion makes the adjustment process harder on the mothers and their teams. Mother or not, employees suffering from sleep deprivation experience adverse effects in the ability to make clear and competent decisions.
Join forward-thinking companies like Netflix and Microsoft, who have extended their parental leave policies in order to retain and attract top talent. When Google increased its leave policy from 12 to 18 weeks, the rate at which new mothers quit was cut in half. Furthermore, other companies reported that by doubling their leave from 8 to 16 weeks, the turnover rate for new mothers fell 40%. It might be tempting to get them back to work quickly, but it can hurt you in the long run.
4. Have a plan to reintegrate the new mothers in your company.
Many companies have great onboarding programs for new employees, but research reveals that almost none give that the same level of attention to employees returning from parental leave. Here are a few approaches you could consider to reintegrate your new mothers into the workplace:
- Prior to their leave, establish a plan of gradual reintegration into their role, and begin to have check-in conversations with the mother as their leave comes to a close. This way, when they return, there is already a plan set in motion to bring them, and everyone else, back online together.
- Offer reduced hours (30/week) during the first three to six months of return to employment. A U.K. based company, Vodafone, has implemented this plan to support employees.
- Conduct an employee orientation geared towards returning mothers. Provide an overview of the company and organization updates that unfolded during their absence.
Keep critical meetings within the core hours of the day. Those 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. team conference calls aren’t creating a smile on anyone’s schedule. Consider giving both returning mothers, and all parents, the benefits of flexible mornings and evenings to support their lives and families.
We seem to put it all on working mothers to manage the nuances of returning to work, while also expecting them to be the CEO supermom at home. Be the company that takes a more unique approach with parent employees. You are not only helping women succeed at home and in the office, but also helping to raise the future generations of the workforce.
Culled from Forbes.com by Ashley Stahl