Mothers – An Untapped Workforce

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Let’s talk about mothers. Specifically, stay at home mothers who are ready to return to work. They could be the greatest unexplored talent pool on the planet, and with ONS figures showing that 1 in 4 mothers with dependent children are not employed, that pool is deep.

Mothers often make better employees

Armed with skills from their previous employment, and accustomed to juggling disparate responsibilities, both personal experience and research has shown that mothers are some of the most productive employees. Here’s a few reasons why.

Exceptional multitasking

Managing children’s homework schedules, household chores, grocery shopping and the demands of their work, mothers have an ability to multitask like no other. In fact a study published in the journal, American Sociological Review, found that working mothers spend 10 more hours a week (for a total of 48.3 hours) multitasking at home, than their working husbands do. Bring that kind of skill to the workplace, and you’ve got somebody whose capability to work across multiple projects concurrently, is unparalleled.

Highly effective time management skills

Ask any parent what they don’t have enough of in the day, and you’ll hear the same answer repeatedly – time. As a result, mothers tend to become highly effective at time management, setting targeted goals, directing conversations more efficiently and generally getting to the point. Not wanting to work evenings and weekends so they can spend more time with the kids provides added motivation. Put simply, when there are at work, they get it done.

Greater empathy

As one of the most authentic, human experiences you can go through, becoming a mother inevitably changes our levels of compassion. Many mothers bring that newfound warmth to the workplace, which allows them to connect better with the people around them. This is particularly helpful in leadership roles, where mothers often move away from the traditional, authoritative leadership model and manage with kindness instead. Research shows that empathetic managers garner more employee loyalty and engagement than those who are less empathetic – great news for companies employing mothers.

The motherhood penalty

While working mothers often make better employees, paradoxically, they also make less money. While we’ve all heard of the gender pay gap, the pay gap between mothers and women without children is in fact wider than the pay gap between men and women without children. This phenomenon is referred to by sociologists as the ‘motherhood penalty’. The TUC calculated a 7% pay gap between mothers and non-mothers working full-time (and with similar personal characteristics such as education, region, occupation and social class). The penalty extends beyond statistic relating to full-time work as well. Most mothers work part- time to enable them to manage all the other unpaid work they do in the home, but with part-time workers being paid on average less than £5 an hour than full- time workers, the penalty really starts to add up.

Maternal wall bias

But if mothers are consistently shown to be as effective, if not more so than their fellow employees, why does this penalty exist? Well, it comes down to something called ‘maternal wall bias’. Studies consistently show that pregnant women and mothers are seen as  less competent and less committed to their jobs, and it’s a significant problem for women’s career advancement.

Research backs the existence of this bias clearly. A study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that a third of employers hold the belief that pregnant women and mothers are less interested in career progression than women without children, or their male counterparts, and a staggering 77% percent of working mothers says they have experienced discrimination in the workplace.

Add to this the structural challenges of balancing a family and a career, from extortionate childcare costs, and lack of childcare spaces, to lack of value attributed to the disproportionate levels of unpaid labour undertaken by women in the home, and it’s no wonder 1 in 4 mothers are not in full-time work. Basically, capitalism wasn’t set up for women.

What can employers do to access this untapped pool of talent?

Employers suffering a talent shortage are overlooking the treasure trove of knowledge, experience and skill that is right underneath their noses. Working mothers are the answer to that shortage.

With a considered approach to structural change at an organisational level, employers can access that resource:

Know your workforce

Working mothers want equality, and that starts with listening to them and supporting their needs. Have an open discussion with your existing employees with children, to find out what they feel is important. It could be the key to creating a more family-friendly company culture, which will inevitably draw more parents as future employees. Take a close look at the makeup of your workforce as well – are there any working mothers in leadership roles, or is that an area you could look to improve? Visibility of mothers in senior roles will be key to drawing peers.

Create a shift in the way mothers are perceived in the workplace

Women who become mothers should be valued, not shamed. They have a unique set of skills and experience to bring to the workplace and that should be celebrated. Foster this attitude among your workforce, from the top, down.

Understand the value of your employees’ time

Everybody’s time should be valued, but with their busy home schedules, parents’ time is especially precious. Put in place working practices that encourage focused working – for example, only hold meetings that have value / offer options to join remotely, and be focused when sending communications, using headers to reflect urgency, consolidating information, and only sending emails when necessary.

Help mothers move away from the guilt paradigm

Guilt is a word that consistently comes up when I’m talking to working mothers.  They feel guilty when they’re at work because they aren’t with their children and guilty when they’re with their children because they aren’t in work. They need to be helped to shift this way of thinking. The push within the workplace should be away from a culture of presenteeism and making working mothers feel that their family life is an encroachment upon their working role, and towards all employees being more mindful and focused, whether at home or at work.

Offer flexible hours

Working culture has come a long way on this, especially since the pandemic, but there’s still a way to go so that working hours accommodate mothers fully. Adopting a ‘parent policy’, where parents can work remotely at least a few days a week, break their work across naptime, TV time and bedtime, or leave the office in time to pick up school age children, will provide great incentive to talented stay- at- home mothers who could be a real asset to your workforce.

Childcare schemes

Of course, not every organisation has the option to provide on-site childcare, but there are other ways to provide support, such as childcare subsidies, tax-free childcare, or salary sacrifice schemes. Offer whatever you can and encourage your HR department to signpost pertinent resources and information.

Abolish the motherhood penalty

Great employers don’t penalise women for having a family. Take a careful look at the pay structure within your organisation and make sure that maternal bias isn’t standing in the way of paying great female employees (who just happen to be mothers) what they’re worth.