To say I’m optimistic about 2018 is an understatement. With campaigns like #metoo, #TimesUp and #5050by2020, women from all industries have made the country take note of gender inequality in personal and professional life. The latest of these efforts, #TimesUp, is the most structured and defined action plan yet, with a focus on fixing “the imbalance of power” in the entertainment industry.
This conversation was long overdue. To see it dominate the news cycle for weeks, even months, has been incredibly heartening. At the same time, there’s one aspect glaringly missing from the dialogue: motherhood.
If we’re going to talk about gender inequality, we also need to talk about the Motherhood Penalty. Every challenge women disproportionately face in the workplace — lower pay, absentee mentors and fewer promotions — is exacerbated when that woman becomes a mother. In spite of the fact that having a family increases costs, according to a report by the Kauffman Foundation, a woman’s income decreases with each child. The researchers also found that mothers are 79 percent less likely to be hired and 50 percent less likely to be promoted.
So, while we’re talking about the things that hold women back at work, we cannot forget the penalty that will affect most working women at some point in their career. The most recent Women in the Workplace study revealed only 2 percent of women planned to leave the workforce to focus on family. But as we learned in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, the partial or complete dropout rate is much higher: 43 percent.
While most millennial women don’t plan to leave the workforce when they become mothers, they still do. In order for Hollywood to reach #5050by2020, or for Congress to achieve a gender ratio that even somewhat resembles the general population, we need to ensure moms don’t have to fight even harder for better pay and promotions.
On top of harassment training, unconscious bias training, gender-based metrics and goals, businesses must provide an environment that supports motherhood. Here’s what a truly equal workplace looks like:
Strong paid parental leave policies. (Currently only 14 percent of workers have access to paid leave.)
Support for the rising costs of childcare. (In 33 states, it costs more than college tuition.)
Engaging with moms when they return to work. (The 43 percent dropout rate largely stems from moms feeling undervalued)
Does your company stand up to the test? If you need a blueprint, just look at Patagonia. They boast a 100% retention rate of moms and approximately 50% of their managers and senior leaders are women.
But equality isn’t just about changing policies or adding a few weeks of parental leave (though it’s an incredible start). It’s about giving women, and particularly new moms, the tools and support they need to achieve their professional goals. Improving a new mom’s experience is critical to keeping her off “mommy track.” Whatever changes your organization makes, they should account for these three things:
Everyone’s return to work after parental leave is unique. Companies need to train their managers to understand that new moms are experiencing a big transition. They might need a bit of time to ramp up to full capacity again. At the same time, they should never assume a new mom can’t handle a new project. Giving additional responsibilities to other team members might seem like the “sensitive” decision, but the mom actually ends up feeling undervalued. The key is to make it easy for moms to talk honestly about their current abilities and future aspirations. Bringing in a career coach or third-party consultant can help make these conversations go smoothly.
Flexibility is necessary. When a new mom needs to leave early to pick up her baby from daycare, it doesn’t mean she’s not committed to her career. Remember, women are expected to pick up the overwhelming majority of family and home responsibilities, a phenomenon known as the second shift. Offering flexibility, whether it’s simply shifting hours, allowing remote work, or scaling back hours temporarily, keeps a mom happy and engaged. New moms are worried that they won’t live up to expectations at work and at home. Helping them fulfill their potential by being flexible is a no-brainer.
Parenting networks are important. Employee resource groups may be on their way out, but giving new moms a network of women who have been through this shared experience is majorly beneficial. Many stay-at-home moms connect through various classes they attend with their babies, but working moms rarely have the opportunity due to their work schedules. By providing a professional moms’ group for employees, businesses show new moms that they support their efforts to balance their career, their professional aspirations and their role as a new mom.
If companies are truly committed to fixing the imbalance of power, they must think about what they can do to keep new moms engaged and on track for promotions and leadership opportunities. #TimesUp on the mommy track and motherhood penalty.