As we continue to explore all of the segments of diversity that deserve our attention, let me add another one to the ever-growing list. If you couldn’t tell by the title – the segment I am speaking about is: Moms. Some of women are fortunate enough to be employed by an employer who understands that there is much more that can be done for women returning to work than what FMLA provides. Those women are in the minority. The larger chunk of this segment is betrothed to companies who either don’t care or aren’t creative enough to create opportunities and pathways for mothers returning to work after starting their families.
Did you know?
The U.S. is one of three countries along with Oman and Papua New Guinea that does not offer paid maternity leave. This is a clear indication that we are not only lackluster in support of women before they become mothers, but that we neglect them on the other side of motherhood as well. As such, “off-ramping” or leaving career tracks for women is not just an option but a decision made under the duress of the stigma placed upon women who decide to have a family.
According to the Center For Talent Innovation’s 2005 study, 37% percent of professional women in the U.S. left their career track at some point. 66% opted for flex-time, temp and part-time work instead of completely off-ramping. According to a 2015 Huffington Post Women article by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the numbers had not changed much when they revisited the 2005 study in 2010. Shocking!
Let’s be honest… let’s be real.
Women should be able to start a family whenever they choose. It isn’t a decision that requires the ever-popular buy-in of line managers and the C-Suite. That said, when a woman makes that decision- it shouldn’t be the case that she has to bid adieu to her career aspirations, upward mobility and financial security.
Unfortunately, women are hindered. There’s a stigma around pregnancy and being a parent in many companies. While I choose to focus in on women for the sake of this piece, the stigma extends to any person – who has to put familial obligations before their work at some point.
I can remember so many days working for previous employers – where my need to leave at 5pm was met with grimaces and rolling eyes. I recall many days that one of my children were sick and I had to hear the long sighs and pauses directly after letting my immediate supervisor know I would be taking the day to care for them.
From where I sat, starting a family was seen as an affront to what the company needed to accomplish. How dare you set them back like this? You want to take longer than FMLA will allow, we can’t guarantee your job because you need more time. “Good luck and best wishes” is how they say: “You were great until you decided to have this family, good luck being hired again, but we are moving on.”
Leaning-in for the win or not.
There isn’t enough leaning-in in the world that can change an archaic mindset. If companies believe a woman who has family obligations is worth less than one who can sit behind a desk for 12 hours a day and then again from home neglecting their personal wants and needs – I would say they are insane. One isn’t better than the other – it’s just different. We need to stop alienating women because they choose to have a family. More importantly, we need to welcome them back whether it is after a short or long hiatus- offering different options for either scenario.
Here are three reasons why companies need to provide a pathway for women back to work after starting a family:
1)A 2013 Pew Research Center Survey indicated that 40% of households with children under the age of 18 have mothers who are either the primary or sole providers of income for the household. By eliminating the pathway for women to return to work, you are very likely creating economic disparities for not only women, but for families on the whole. Washington Post reported last year that 47% of Americans cannot afford an unexpected $400 expense. Already strained household budgets, plus unpaid maternity leaves, coupled with women out of work due to lack of opportunity is very likely a financial burden/nightmare for many families in the U.S.
2) Can you afford to lose another segment of the workforce? KPMG published their 2016 Top Global Market Trends last month. One of the five takeaways from this report was that: “Talent shortages are still top-of-mind for many leaders and they see it as the new norm.” I’ve mentioned in other articles that I think the talent shortage is more perceived than actual. How can we claim talent shortages when we are willfully turning away women from the workforce? Realistically, no organization can afford to lose this segment; which is why it makes sense to create circumstances that favor them staying.
3) It’s the right thing to do. How much more volume do women’s issues need for the parity and double-standards to stop? Every person deserves to be able to sustain themselves and their families by way of gainful employment. Women owned-businesses are on the rise and they are likely to rival establishment businesses and their archaic thinking. The true talent shortage is when women push out the big guys and focus on all of the items that were off the table like: paid maternity leave, flex-work arrangements, backup daycare, eldercare options, paternity leave, phase-back programs etc.
I covered this topic in further detail on my show: Ask Czarina Live ™ Unbothered: Moms Returning To Work. Check out the episode below.
Three years ago, I was a part of a small social media team that was covering the NY Business Expo Summit in New York City. After several hours of busily typing soundbites of some of the brightest minds in Social Media, I sauntered to the nearest lavatory where I was approached by Dr. Hilary S. Berger, Ed.D of Work Like a Mother®. She was fascinated with the speed at which I was typing and covering the event and asked me if I could help her hone her skills.
Not too long after the event we met in a Panera Bread in New York City to discuss the possibility of working with one another. As we were sharing our backgrounds and journeys as mothers, we realized we both had a passion for seeing women thrive. We spent most of our time talking about what we might be able to accomplish together someday. These lofty wishes were wrapped up in us being able to provide programs, events, and workshops that could assist women who have lost their way with a way to become relevant again through unique learning opportunities- an academy of sorts.
Some three years later, I am happy to say that academy was launched in 2015 as the Work Like a Mother® Career Academy for Social Media and Job Search Training. I came aboard as a social media and personal branding instructor. In 2016, we are collaborating in a more formal fashion to create new programming and provide the next iteration of the Work Like a Mother® Career Academy for Social Media and Job Search Training.
Our first collaboration is a program that was one of my proudest achievements for 2015- my Talent Think Social Circle Virtual Mentorship Teleclass ™. I launched this program with an idea, shoestring budget and blind faith from October through December of 2015 following the conclusion of the academy and it was a success.
Class “Usie” after my Art of Personal Branding and Social Media Workshop.
With the interest and support of Work Like a Mother®, my program has an extended lifeline and has grown into a multi-level program serving two separate needs for the women we serve:
1) Some women just want to re-enter the workforce. As such, their primary interest is in enhancing their skills and building the confidence needed to become a marketable candidate in an ever-difficult and selective job market.
2) In complete contrast to the previous example, there are women who have ideas for businesses they want to launch and need a place where they can incubate and grow those ideas into businesses. They too require some up-skilling and coaching to get there and we want to serve that need as well.
Who better to nurture women who have either of these needs than two mothers/business women that understand and empathize with their journeys. Corporate America isn’t checking for them and certainly hasn’t made much progress in ensuring the career mobility and flexibility of women, so we are tackling it in the only way we know- through education and coaching.
Work Like a Mother Open House (1.15.16)
You may be thinking what does this have to do with Human Resources?
On the surface, probably not anything. Let’s dive a little deeper though. When I worked in HR, I recognized that people could skip along all day creating policies and procedures without any care or concern for how it impacts the workforce. We were keeping the organization compliant and that is necessary. However, I often wondered if things would be different if Human Resources could function in a truly altruistic manner. My HR buddy, Dave Ryan shared something rather profound in a recent blog post. The post titled: “A Utopian Workplace”drove home an important consideration which is: “it is hard for HR to create a utopian society in the way everyone expects when society has yet to right certain human wrongs. I have to agree and I believe one of the things we have screwed up left and right is how women are regarded and treated in the workplace. More disturbingly is how women who choose to become mothers are often displaced and forgotten. While my collaboration has really nothing to do with HR directly, indirectly Hilary and I are attempting to triage the ills of society from the outside-in-with the hope that these women can thrive and succeed in the way that is most meaningful for them.
If you are interested in learning more about our programs, go to: http://worklikeamother.com/Mentorship.html. In addition, if you are interested in featuring us on your blog, publication, podcast etc. to discuss our work we would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with you.
Here’s a little more insight on Dr. Hilary S. Berger, Ed.d and Work Like a Mother® worth knowing:
Dr. Hilary S. Berger, Ed.D. is the founder of Work Like a Mother® and is a Career Counselor and Board Certified Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselor who earned her Doctoral Degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College. With office locations in Fairfield County Connecticut, Dr. Berger has pioneered a solution oriented career counseling system designed exclusively for educated mothers at home raising their families. She has counseled women in transition both in university settings and in private practice for over twenty years. Work Like a Mother®, a thriving and dynamic community for mothers, is a one stop shop for mothers rebuilding their professional relevance and marketability during and after their parenting years.
After being pregnant three times over the past seven years, I have seen, heard, and endured things that have both shocked me and made me angry. For starters, there are far too many employers that are still treating pregnancy as if it is a cardinal sin and a complete undoing to their business. Having children whether as an older more tenured employee or an early careerist is a life decision that need not be vetted or agreed with by an employer. Certainly, there are the usual considerations of the inevitable impact of having children depending on where you are in your career; but they are just that- considerations.
Consider this instead:
*The U.S. is one of only 4 countries that doesn’t offer paid leave to new mothers — the others are Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho.
*Having a baby is a leading cause of “poverty spells” in the U.S. — when income dips below what’s needed for basic living expenses.
When you are notified by an employee that they are pregnant, they haven’t just given you their resignation simultaneously. Pregnant women are not only capable of continuing their duties (unless sickness and or the physical nature of their job interfere), but they are worthy of having your support as an employer.
As a new business owner, I would like to impart some food-for thought for dealing with pregnancy in general and pregnant employees:
Stop saying dumb things to your pregnant employees. If you are hesitant to say what you’re thinking or you are unsure; do yourself a favor and be quiet.
Be kind.In as much as pregnant women are willing and capable, a little compassion can go a long way. Ask them how they are feeling. If they are struggling during the first trimester or beyond; allow some leniency. It’s that whole do onto others philosophy.
Did you also know?*51% of new mothers lack any paid leave —so some take unpaid leave, some quit, some even lose their jobs. If you can help it, get out of this third-world mentality that exists in the US and offer your female employees a dose of relief in the way of a paid maternity leave, the ability to phase-back to work, short-term disability etc.
While said employee is on leave, do your best to refrain from contacting her regarding work related things or anything in general. Maternity leave is supposed to be a time for healing, bonding, and family. Respect the employee’s time.
Lastly, if there are concerns about adequate time and the like- communicate your concern, but don’t over communicate. There are dr.’s appointments, unforeseen sicknesses, etc. Again, if this is a good employee do your best to work through these hurdles. In business, there are always workarounds whether you want to openly admit it or not).
Don’t forget your male employees. They are becoming dads too and may need your support as well.
Pregnant women are not second-class citizens. You do not have to fundamentally agree with the act of childbearing or its timing but you do have an obligation to respect the decision and support your employees as best you can.
Every year Working Mother.com compiles a list of the best 100 companies for the working mother. One of their requirements for application acceptance is that they offer at least one week of paid family leave or they must be on their way to implementing some sort of paid maternity leave. The list is great and proof that nothing I said here is pie-in-the-sky. Check the list of companies out here.
Here’s a wacky bonus tip: don’t touch your pregnant employee unless you ask. I once had a manager push in my protruding belly button because she thought it was odd and cute. Please stop doing these things. It doesn’t bode well for anyone involved.
What are some innovative arrangements or policies you have implemented to support your pregnant or even new mother employees?