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  • Writer's pictureHolly Corbett

How Companies Can Reverse The Great Resignation By Supporting Working Mothers

Working mother holding the hand of her daughter with a backpack walking down the street.
Today, there are nearly two million fewer women in the workforce than there were at the beginning of the pandemic. GETTY

Today, there are nearly two million fewer women in the workforce than there were at the beginning of the pandemic, with mothers and particularly mothers of color leaving at higher rates. With the ongoing labor shortage where there are more jobs available than workers, companies that support mothers in the workplace will be better able to meet the demand for top talent.

Reshma Saujani’s new book Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work (And Why It’s Different Than You Think) lays out an action plan for how we can turn a crisis into an opportunity to fix the broken systems that never worked for women—and keep women in the workforce. “This is the new resistance,” says Saujani, also the founder of Girls Who Code and The Marshall Plan for Moms. “There are so many people in power trying to go back to the old normal of workplaces that were never designed for [women]. Right now, we have power and we have leverage because of the Great Resignation.”

I spoke to Saujani and a number of other women leaders on how we make workplaces work for women, and particularly work for mothers. Here is their advice on how companies can better attract and retain this key talent pool.

Normalize and value caregiving for all people. One factor contributing to women being pushed out of the workforce in greater numbers is that women continue to shoulder the majority of caregiving duties. To shift the deeply-rooted norms that make women the default caregivers, it’s time to “recognize that an hour holding a child’s hand in the pediatrician’s office is just as valuable as an hour in the boardroom, because then men will do it,” says Eve Rodsky, author of Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution For When You Have Too Much To Do (And More Life To Live). Companies offering a gender-neutral mandatory paid parental leave policy is one action step to help combat the motherhood penalty and normalize caregiving for all.

Create policies that support caregivers. “Women have been strained, and they don’t feel like it’s getting better for them,” says Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of The National Women’s Law Center. “The thing policy makers and individual employers can do right now is to have supporting caregivers be a screen for everything you do. Is the policy you’re about to put out one that will make it better or not? People do not feel like they are seen, and it is possible for both policy makers and employers to change that.”

For example, only 10% of workers say their company offers childcare policies or benefits, according to a survey by the Harris poll on behalf of Fortune. Three quarters of working parents carefully consider their childcare before accepting a new job or promotion, and people who feel unsupported with childcare are at a high risk of leaving, found Bright Horizon’s 2022 Modern Family Index report.

Build a speak up culture. Women leaders are more likely to face microaggressions that challenge their competence—such as being interrupted or having their judgment questioned, according to the Women in the Workplace 2021 Report. Moreover, women of color are far more likely than white women to experience disrespectful and othering behavior, such as surprise at their language skills.

“There's a direct connection between microaggressions and bias, and the reality is women who experience them are twice as likely to feel burned out,” says Rachel Thomas, cofounder and CEO of LeanIn.Org. “All of that adds up: women who experience microaggressions are understandably less happy in their roles and more likely to leave their organizations. In addition to having all the right policies and programs in place—which are so critically important—we also need a call to action to change the culture of work. That means all employees at all levels need to be empowered to figure out how to interrupt bias when they see it, and beyond that, how to show up day after day as true allies.”

Offer mental health care. “One of the things we really need to pay attention to is that America's mothers are broken,” says Saujani. “The CDC released a report that found the two subgroups facing the biggest mental health crisis post-pandemic are 18 to 24 year olds, and moms. And moms don't break.”

There is a business case for addressing workers’ mental health care, such as saving on health care costs and increased productivity. It can even help attract talent: 76% of workers say they consider mental health benefits as critical when evaluating new jobs.

Companies can play a role in supporting the mental health of all people, and especially working mothers and marginalized people, to empower their employees to drive inclusion. "As women, mothers, marginalized people, we must understand that the odds are stacked against us, but that does not make us a victim who is powerless in invoking change,” says Dr. LaNail Plummer, CEO, Onyx Therapy Group. “I’m a veteran myself, and breaking cycles can be compared to going into battle. Rather than wearing armor, there are protective factors in terms of our emotional and mental health. What do we do before we go into a workplace that was not designed for us? We have to empower ourselves by knowing what our protective factors are, what our coping mechanisms are, and having a high level of intentionality. Because we are breaking cycles and we are empowered to do this every day.”

Be intentional about diversity and equity. Leaders and companies have the power to implement the systemic changes mothers need to thrive at work. “It was intentional the way that these systems were created,” says Dr. Plummer. “It was intentional in the ways that [women and marginalized people] were left out of conversations. It was intentional in the differences of how we are paid. Therefore, company leaders and executives must use the same level and intensity in being intentional about correcting these historical wrongdoings. It's simply a matter of reversal, so one must intentionally ensure that cultural diversity is present on the teams and in the leadership meetings, and in payment [to close the gender and racial wealth gap], at the least."

*Article originally published in Forbes


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