All around us, companies are striving to re-energize employees and attract them back to work, but it’s been an uphill battle. For all the havoc the pandemic wrought, it opened workers’ eyes to the untenable struggles of keeping both work and home lives afloat, and they are not willing to go gently back into that dark night again.
For organizations looking to lure back their labor forces, I offer the age-old adage: Do what your mother tells you
Supporting Working Mothers is the Key to Rebuilding Your Office
During the pandemic, working mothers disappeared from the labor force in the largest numbers. Maternal employment declined by 15.7% in April 2020 and, as the crisis has receded, working mothers have proven to be the most difficult group to reengage. About one-third of all mothers in the workforce have scaled back or left their jobs, or plan to do so – roughly 8 million women. Given that the myriad benefits of gender-diverse workplaces have been extremely well-established, providing the lost working mothers with what they need to return to work must be a critical first step for any business moving forward.
So What Are Working Moms Looking For?
We’ve heard it a million times: flexibility, childcare, and remote work options top the list of benefits working moms are demanding before they return to the office, but these benefits are just the bare minimum of what working women actually want from their employers.
Companies serious about attracting working mothers must start listening and responding to the next-level benefits their working mothers are seeking.
1. Offer Paid Leave for Birthing Parents AND Non-Birthing Parents
Women’s equality in the workplace is not possible on its own. Providing appropriate paid leave not only to birthing mothers but also to their partners is essential to making working mothers’ lives manageable and showing all the women in your organization that you truly care about their well-being.
Providing leave for the non-birthing parent as well as the birth mother offers many benefits for the whole family, including improved health and financial results, a more equal division of family duties, and enhanced child bonding for both parents. Employers who don’t facilitate partners sharing mothers’ typically outsized home responsibilities are going to lose women to the companies who do.
2. Offer Onsite Health Services
Another benefit working mothers have been asking for is onsite healthcare facilities that make it possible for them to access routine medical services easily at work. For parents whose every minute feels stretched and who often sacrifice their own wellness to focus on their families, this worry- and time-saving convenience is a huge asset.
While not every company can afford a full-blown health center, most can at least consider bringing to the office common services like flu shots, mammograms, or immunizations. Not only will this signal to your working moms that you recognize their conflicts, that you want to reduce their stressors, and that their well-being matters, but this benefit will send that message to your larger workforce, as well.
3. Create an Onsite Network of Motherhood Mentors and Sponsors
According to Maven, although 75% of expecting mothers say they’re excited to go back to work after giving birth, 43% of them actually end up leaving their jobs. That’s because navigating work as a new parent can be challenging, especially in the wake of a career pause. An Employee Resource Group targeted specifically to working mothers can make that juggle easier, and women are looking for it.
ERGs for mothers connect women to other parents at the office who can serve as role models, platforms for ideas and advice, and – critically — helping hands that keep them climbing the corporate ladder instead of faltering on the ‘broken rung.’
This simple, low-cost resource can tip a working mother’s scale away from resignation and toward reinvigoration – especially when she meets with her ERG in person and when she is connected to the ERG from the start of her pregnancy and throughout maternity leave instead of just upon her return.
4. Welcome Your Breast Feeders
Research shows that a staggering 1 in 4 women return to work within two weeks of giving birth.
Working mothers want – working mothers NEED – dedicated spaces to pump breastmilk during the workday, and they are growing more and more willing to walk away from employers who aren’t responding appropriately to that basic exigency.
Employers who want mothers to head back into their offices need to move away from the bathroom and broom-closet approach to pumping and start providing mothers with respectful, comfortable spaces designed and equipped expressly to help nursing mothers pump easily and efficiently for as long as they need to for the health of their children.
5. Show Moms the Money
Parents face a completely different financial future than single employees, one that may involve life insurance, retirement concerns, college savings plans, and more. Both new job candidates and current employees are increasingly considering how employers do or do not support their families’ particular financial realities.
Employers who want to lure back working mothers must offer (and publicize!) programs like employer 401(k) matching, flexible health care spending accounts, childcare subsidies, and more. A bouquet of flowers on Mother’s Day means nothing compared to these types of long-term support.
At the end of the day, if your company is serious about meaningfully building back your workforce after the pandemic pause, one message needs to come through loud and clear to all your employees and candidates: whether you’re someone who is planning to have a family, returning after a recent birth, or raising a family, we want you at our company and we’re willing to work and spend to keep you here.
The more you share and publicize your family-forward mindset and policies in job postings, in company communications, and on social media, the more women you will bring back to work, the easier it will be to recruit them to your organization, and the sooner your office will be running at full speed again.