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Working mothers fear that parenthood is negatively impacting their careers

February 26, 2022 - 8 min read

Working mothers fear their careers have been negatively impacted by parenthood

 

Caring for professional responsibilities while raising a family has always been a delicate balancing act for working parents. But COVID-19 unfairly tipped the scales squarely against them. 

The closures of schools and daycare facilities in tandem with a shift to remote work left parents struggling to find balance between work and personal life. Seemingly overnight, the office, the classroom, the playground, and the daycare center, all merged under the same roof, putting tremendous pressure on families already stressed out by the pandemic itself. 

While some parts of life are getting nearer to normal, the struggles working parents are facing are unlikely to go away anytime soon. And with more and more companies permanently implementing hybrid working models, the blurriness between work and home life is likely to remain.


We wanted to understand more about how working parents were balancing their personal and professional responsibilities. In December 2021, BetterUp Labs surveyed 584 full time working parents in the US who had at least one child under the age of 10. The split between mothers and fathers in our study was nearly even (49% and 51% respectively). What we learned was that a significant number of working parents felt that having a child had negatively impacted their careers and job security, but some groups expressed these concerns stronger than others.

What the data say:

Overwhelmingly, women express stronger concerns that parenthood is taking a negative toll on their job security and potential for career advancement. 

One in five (20.25%) mothers report that having a child had a moderately negative to extremely negative impact on their job security, whereas only 5% of fathers report that having a child had a moderately negative to extremely negative impact on their job security.

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When we look at these numbers broken down by working arrangement, we see that the women who are expressing the most concern for their job security are those who are working remotely or in hybrid working arrangements.

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Similarly, 17% of working mothers report that having a child had a moderately negative to extremely negative impact on their opportunities for career advancement, whereas only 5% of fathers report that having a child had a moderately negative to extremely negative impact on their opportunities for career advancement.

When we look at these numbers broken down by working arrangement, we see that the women who are expressing the most future impact on their careers are in remote and hybrid positions, whereas the differences amongst working fathers are much less striking. This suggests that mothers who have the potential to take on childcare responsibilities as a result of a more flexible working arrangement may be doing so at a detriment to their work product and future career success.

Why this matters:

The balance of work and home life has been upended in every household, but women are bearing the brunt of that impact. While both mothers and fathers are shouldering increased domestic responsibilities, women are taking on the lion’s share of virtual homeschooling, cooking, cleaning, and parenting. This has forced many women to sacrifice career advancement and in many cases even avoid returning to the job market altogether

According to a recent McKinsey & Company report, one in three women say they are considering “downshifting their career” or leaving the workforce this year. Among mothers, the majority cite childcare responsibilities as a primary reason. All of this points to the fact that gender bias is alive and well. The pandemic only magnified how inequality affects women both in and out of the home.

Clearly, working parents need support from their employers. But women especially need assurance that parenthood has not put their careers at risk. 

5 ways organizations can help

Fortunately, there are some specific ways organizations can better support working mothers along with working fathers and soon-to-be parents. 

    1. Provide flexible work arrangements

      If possible, enact flexible work arrangements that give working parents more control over their schedules. This could mean remote or hybrid work options, pick-and-choose weekly schedules, or even 4 day work weeks. While moving to a completely different working style may sound risky, our data has shown that productivity, creativity, and resilience of employees actually increases when these changes are made.
    2. Establish family-friendly policies and benefits

      Now is the time to reevaluate any long-standing policies and identify if any changes need to be made. Examine if each policy truly applies to all employees, no matter their gender, marital, parental, or employment status. Even when the policies look good on paper, work may be necessary to ensure people feel comfortable using them without fear of shame, pressure, or retaliation. Some examples are company policies and benefits involving PTO, sick days, maternity and paternity leave, medical benefits, and fertility care.
    3. Promote and invest in employee resource groups
      Employee resource groups are peer communities within an organization that support specific groups. These internal organizations can provide resources, advice, and other practical support for working parents.
    4. Prioritize building an inclusive culture

      One of the most powerful ways organizations can support working mothers is to invest in cultivating a culture of inclusion and belonging.

      In BetterUp’s Inclusive Leadership Insights report, our research revealed that feeling supported at work was linked with a 17% boost in women’s well-being since the pandemic began and a 28% boost for parents overall. Intent to stay scores jump by 31% for women and 13% for parents.
    5. Make coaching available to working parents

      Professional coaching is not just useful for company leaders, it can benefit people at all levels and in all roles. A coach can help working parents find greater work life balance, better manage stress, and care for their mental health. 

When all employees feel their company supports their wellbeing in and out of the office, the data show that the organization as a whole benefits. Employees that feel supported are 3.4x more likely to have high job satisfaction, 2.7x more likely to have high organizational commitment, 2.1x more likely to be high in stress management, and 1.9x more likely to be highly engaged. 

Working parents, and mothers in particular, have had their careers derailed and their home lives turned upside over the past two years. But the skills working mothers bring to the table — empathy, multitasking, flexibility, understanding, time management, communication skills, staying calm under pressure, etc — are more valuable than ever. 

With the Great Resignation draining organizations of top talent and putting strain on their ability to adequately compete, one of the best ways companies can invest in their futures is to support working mothers.

 

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Published February 26, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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