Diversity & Inclusion

5 Ways to Help Working Mothers Advance Their Careers

HR responsibilities can be more complex than just offering good benefits or a welcoming and supportive office culture. For instance, how can you support working mothers in building their careers as they also raise children?

mother

RossHelen / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Women who choose to start families can easily get stuck in their career advancement when they need to split their time and when their workplace doesn’t help them meet the challenges they face. Here are five ways to make sure you include working mothers in the equation when helping employees advance.

Generous Parental Leave

While the Family and Medical Leave Act requires some (but not all) employers to offer up to 12 weeks of leave, it does not require that leave to be paid, and there are limitations as to who’s eligible for it.

Instead of providing the minimum required by law, provide a generous parental leave that is paid and for which employees qualify as soon as they start working for you. Consider offering longer than 12 weeks—perhaps not paid but still freely available.

Another way to help working mothers maximize the usefulness of parental leave is to give them some flexibility with their leave time so they can phase back into work, which often makes the transition easier.

Going from full-time mothering to full-time working can be intense; helping these new mothers gradually adjust to returning to work, as well as the new reality of being away from their baby for many hours each day, shows them you are invested in their well-being and that you value their work.

Flexible Working Hours

All employees can benefit from flexible working hours; in fact, one survey found that “40% of the full-time U.S. employees surveyed say that flexible hours are the most important perk they receive, and over half (54%) say it’s the perk that matters most to their job satisfaction.”

But for working mothers, this option can help them stay connected to their family, such as by getting to school events, finding the best child care, and spending pockets of time with their children between meetings or solo work sprints. There’s more than one way to offer a flexible schedule. Consider what’s best for your company’s needs; flex time, a compressed workweek, and job sharing are a few options.

Remote Working Options

Mothers will inevitably worry about their children while at work, so it’s important to help ease their minds by giving them the time they need to balance being a mom and being a worker. Especially when mothers have babies or young children, they’ll be worried about making sure their children are hitting growth milestones on time.

Many maternity leave policies give mothers between 6 and 12 weeks at home with their baby, but what about other important milestones, like learning to crawl, that happen weeks or months after a mom must return to work? Work-from-home policies enable mothers who are raising young children to be around for some of these exciting events while attending to their professional responsibilities.

On-Site Child Care

While this isn’t an option for many smaller companies, it certainly can be for larger businesses. Child care is a significant expense for working mothers: A 2019 report found that across the country, child care for each child costs upward of $9,100. That’s more than a year of tuition at a public university. Younger working mothers who are trying to climb the career ladder likely have their own student loans to pay for on top of wanting to save for their child’s future education.

This kind of benefit can make a significant difference in a working mother’s ability to advance. It isn’t the simplest one to implement, but to attract and retain the best talent, it may be worth the investment.

For smaller organizations that simply can’t afford to set up this benefit, consider providing a private wellness room that new mothers can use to pump more comfortably throughout the day; it will convey that you are aware of their specific needs and benefit your other employees, too.

Remove Gender Bias in Reviews, Promotions, and Pay Bumps

Despite best efforts to level the playing field, gender bias in the workplace still exists; there is a significant gender wage gap that applies to all women. Simply implementing policies to make pay equitable will go a long way toward supporting working mothers, but don’t stop there.

When working women become working mothers, a common and sometimes unconscious opinion emerges among managers that they are no longer up to the task of taking on challenging assignments or a new higher-level role. In performance reviews, managers are sometimes influenced by how often an employee is present in the office during normal working hours (even if remote or flex work is approved).

Essentially, the realities of working motherhood can unfairly influence opinions of their productivity and value. As an HR professional, you can help prevent this by working with leadership to make sure their assumptions and below-the-surface conclusions aren’t damaging the ability of working mothers to advance.

Mothering does not negate a woman’s ability to develop and maintain a successful career, and neither should the policies of your workplace. These and other options can help you develop supportive benefits that result in working mothers’ wanting to stay at your company as they advance in their careers.

Morgen Henderson is a writer from the Silicon Slopes of Utah. She writes about business, technology, travel, and sustainability. When she’s not typing away at her computer, you can find her baking and traveling the globe.