April 28, 2022 / Point of View
The following article was originally published in Ad Age.
Women, particularly working mothers, are fleeing the workforce in droves. Burnout is the predominant cause, since women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic after carrying the burden of housework and caretaking as well as the cognitive and emotional workload of the family.
This is not good for our industry. The mass exodus may have long-term losses and implications for the women leaving the workforce, but it also impacts diversity initiatives, affects gender equity and can quash economic recovery. But how do we stop this flight? Competitive benefits including paid leave for parents, adoption assistance and infertility support are very important, but they’re table stakes.
This Mother’s Day, it’s time to turn the shecession into a mama-boom. Here’s how to give your working moms—and all working parents—what they really want.
Putting your people first means listening to their needs. Even though I work for a company that’s 64% female with 60% female leadership, we don’t assume we’re doing everything right.
We garner feedback often with open-door policies, surveys and transparent roundtable discussions. Many of our female staff need the connection time with other moms after feeling isolated during the pandemic. We’ve taken on so much that just being asked ¾ in person ¾ what makes us feel supported led to great vulnerability and appreciation. We learn about each other’s unique circumstances, which can often lead to solutions.
As bad as the pandemic has been, mothers have benefitted from the workday shift and the flexibility it generated. Being present when kids leave for and return from school, starting dinner while on conference calls or just being at the table at dinnertime is priceless ¾ not to mention all the commuting time we got back. At the same time, having designated in-office days allows for schedule predictability. So, open up your offices again and provide days when parents can expect to be in, but also provide full flexibility to empower parents to manage their work/life balance. If it doesn’t make sense for a parent to come in, they don’t need to.
Along with flexibility in the hybrid workplace comes a need for connection. The wars that working moms have already fought (and occasionally won) before 9 a.m. are immense. I have two headstrong toddlers, and daily breakfast battles and wardrobe negotiations can be more draining than an eight-hour Zoom call. We need to provide opportunities for parents to connect and thrive through employee resource groups, special networking events, learning and development or mental health and wellness programs. These actions provide well-needed support for individuals. They foster shared empathy so groups can form trusting relationships, have each other’s backs and respect each other as individuals with needs, aspirations and joys. Intentional time together can remind us why we love what we do and allow us to share learnings and inspiration with one another.
Show role models
If working moms aren’t seeing other working moms happy and thriving in positions above them, they won’t see a future in the industry. And it’s not just about female representation at the top. How these leaders are treated can inspire other women to stay. Make sure your female leaders understand the influence they have in nurturing and helping women coming up behind them. This influence starts in the interview process. Be sure you have working parents interviewing candidates so they see what life can be like at your company while juggling parenthood.
Mind The Journey
You need to consider the entire journey of working parents in your company. How women take maternity leave and how the company acts during these times affects retention. When people take parenting leave, make sure they know how much you value them. See that their work is covered, but don’t make them feel replaceable. When they return from leave, make sure your onboarding program is positive, inclusive and helps them understand what they missed so their transition back is smooth. And hire pregnant women. I was recruited when pregnant with my second daughter. Nothing shows how much you value parenting and family more than allowing someone to start a job before they even start the parenting journey.
Even though mothers took on the brunt of household chores and most likely the mental and emotional workload during the pandemic, the balance is slowly changing. Many women are primary breadwinners of their families, while their spouses are the primary caretakers. You need to consider the whole employee. By providing family leave for co-parents in addition to mothers, it signals to working moms that they’re not required to do it all.
All these factors can help working mothers thrive, which in turn brings value to your company and its clients or customers. Remember that not every working parent has the same circumstances. For some, the process of becoming a parent is a journey unto itself. For others, they’re taking on this responsibility solo. Our industry is built on amazing talent capable of accomplishing great things. Parenthood may be the greatest and most challenging of all, so we need to see parents’ individual needs and meet them where they are on Mother’s Day and the other 364 days of the year.