Working mothers have been through a lot over the past 18 months. They’ve had to juggle working remotely with online learning and 24/7 childcare. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy to assume that childcare duties could get in the way of workplace productivity, but in many cases, the opposite is true.
Bias against working mothers is a real thing across industries and sectors. Let’s look at how to overcome it and why working mothers are absolutely worth considering in your hiring process.
Working mothers have always struggled to play the roles of full-time employee and full-time mom. Prior to the pandemic, they could separate work and family life by going to the office during the day and being home with their families on evenings and weekends. Remote work scrambled that picture and the blurriness is not sustainable for some families.
McKinsey’s 2020 Women in the Workplace report found that as many as two million women are considering quitting their jobs or taking a leave of absence. This trend has short-term impacts on hiring but also hinders the long-term talent pipeline and erases years of slow, steady progress by women advancing into leadership roles across organizations.
Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at Stanford University, summed up the challenges and dangers of remote work for working mothers in a recent article in The Atlantic, saying “The structure of life for many parents during the pandemic—more to do at home, kids highly visible during Zoom calls, flexible work hours—creates the exact conditions under which biases against mothers get unleashed.”
Let’s be clear — few, if any, companies deliberately single out working mothers as unfit to join their organizations. Rather, this group falls victim to the unconscious bias that also impacts people of color and other under-represented groups.
When a candidate mentions her children in a job interview, the mind can wander to thoughts about missed meetings, late projects, and other issues that could impact productivity. While those things are never completely unavoidable, research has shown that working moms are actually more productive at work than men and women without children.
A study by Ernst&Young in Australia found that working mothers waste 11% of their time in the office, compared to 14% by other groups of workers. The report argues that mothers are more productive at work because they want to fully concentrate on time with their children outside of work. They are also concerned about overcoming bias that may exist against them so they focus on doing their jobs fully and completely, while other groups that don’t face those pressures might be more inclined to slack off every once in a while.
Beyond workplace productivity, mothers also bring skills and experience in conflict resolution, empathy, and goal-setting to the workplace. All of these things are essential for raising happy, healthy children and can also help when it comes to navigating difficult situations or taking on challenging projects as a company.
It’s not just that working mothers can help make a better company; having a job that makes her feel safe and secure can also help make a woman a better mother. A 2019 survey by Motherly found 55% of working moms say that their job has empowered or inspired them to be a better mother.
This holds true for working moms of all backgrounds and both full and part-time. Even more positively, 90% say their work choice has helped them set a positive example for their children – again equally true for full-time and part-time working moms.
Eliminating bias against working mothers involves many of the same actions and decisions that are involved with preventing bias in other groups. Make sure that your entire HR team has received training that includes a broad range of hiring biases, including bias against working mothers.
Utilize standard interview guides to ensure that the process is consistent for every applicant and you don’t slip into holding someone’s family against them during the interview. Finally, make your hiring decisions based on evidence and what you heard the candidate say during the interview, not what you assume about them from their background or other personality traits.
When it comes to women in the workplace specifically, a recent study from the Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee found that women were more likely to be hired when gender-specific references were removed from the application process. Consider adding a blind resume review to your process or investing in software that can remove gender references from applications.
Organizations can also support working mothers on the talent management side of things by creating a workplace that offers flexible schedules, remote work options, and other benefits that are specific to a mother’s needs. The Motherly survey found that paid maternity leave and on-site childcare or childcare subsidies, and breastfeeding support topped the list of benefits that women said companies could provide to support their unique needs and help them achieve a better work-life balance.
Regardless of whether you’re talking about talent acquisition or talent management, it’s not enough to simply pay lip service to changes that support working mothers. Organizations need to create a culture where mothers feel welcome by people at all levels of the company from the beginning of the hiring process throughout their tenure as employees.