September 27, 2022

Eliminating the ‘Motherhood Penalty’: How Organizations Can Be More Inclusive of Working Moms

Many women suffer career setbacks when they decide to start a family. 

As Osato Evbuomwan, senior marketing manager at Unilever, explains, “Women who take career breaks to have children are less likely to be hired when they try to get back into the world of work. And for those who do get hired, they have to contend with receiving less pay than equally qualified colleagues due to the time they have spent out of work.”

Employers are in a position to right this wrong. 

No woman should have to choose between achieving their personal goals and achieving their professional goals. They should be able to achieve them all. Organizations can enable women to have the families and the careers they want by building more inclusive talent management processes, providing childcare solutions for working moms, and offering women learning opportunities that prepare them for future leadership roles.

Eliminate Barriers for Women Returning to Work

Women returning to the workforce after having children can have trouble picking up where they left off or advancing in their careers because their time away from work is often viewed as a career or skills gap. This leads to them being overlooked by hiring managers for positions for which they are qualified. 

Addressing this issue requires companies to create talent acquisition and management processes that are more inclusive of working moms. 

One approach is for companies to create returnship programs specifically designed for women coming back from maternity leave, says Madan Nagaldinne, head of people and culture at blockchain infrastructure company Paxos. To support these women in their careers, HR teams must “commit to a returnship number and hold hiring managers accountable to meeting returnship goals,” he asserts. 

Companies can also implement flexible working policies that enable mothers to balance work and home. Whether that’s a hybrid work schedule, a shorter work day, or a compressed work week, flexibility in scheduling creates environments that are welcoming to working mothers. 

In doing so, organizations help create barrier-free pathways for moms to return to jobs they want.

silhouette of a woman balancing on a highwire in the sky; motherhood penalty concept

Provide Childcare Solutions as a Company Benefit

Lack of access to childcare directly correlates to the low number of women in leadership positions in the workforce.

Moms are more likely than dads to take time off to shoulder family responsibilities. When they return to the office, they have fallen behind their colleagues. They essentially have to start their careers again before they can move up the ladder.

Providing childcare solutions is one way organizations can create workplaces that enable and encourage women to pursue their career goals.  

One suggestion by Sania Khan, the chief economist at Eightfold, is for companies to partner with childcare providers to ensure working moms have options for childcare. She also suggests companies give subsidies to employees to help them pay for childcare. By offering working benefits such as these, organizations give working moms the opportunity to balance their family responsibilities and their career ambitions.  

Offer Learning Opportunities to Help Women Assume Leadership Positions

Another way organizations can help working moms achieve their career goals and fill more leadership roles is to offer them learning opportunities that allow them to progress along their career paths in the company. 

Working moms are busy, and it can be difficult for them to take time to invest in themselves, says Alaina Percival, CEO at Women Who Code. It falls to the company, she says, to “make sure that people have the avenue and the clarity that they should be investing in themselves, and that they have the support and resources to do so.”

This can be accomplished by creating career maps for women and providing the training opportunities they need to take each step along the way. Doing so demonstrates a respect for women’s contributions and a dedication to helping them be their best both at home and at work.

Women should not have to suffer the “motherhood penalty.” They should be welcomed back to the workforce after starting a family and supported in their career paths. Organizations can make this happen by creating work environments that are inclusive of and encouraging for mothers.

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