Working mothers or mothers returning to work are now the focus of widespread discussion as cases of anti-mother bias settles more frequently in court. Research on women in the workforce points consistently that women are adding to profitability, contributing to a greater diversity of insights and ramping up productivity. So, how can boards counteract this inherent bias towards working mothers and even the playing field?
Jennifer Labit, founder and CEO of CEOmom describes how women post pregnancy and during child rearing are often ‘mommy-tracked’, meaning that ‘they receive less desirable projects and go part-time’ when they return to work. Labit’s comments are in line with the gender research studies in the workplace. The New York Times in a recent viral article, ‘The Open Secret of Anti-Mom Bias at Work’, interviewed Liz Morris, deputy director of the Center for Worklife Law, a group that advocates for gender and racial equality in the workplace. Morris noted that, “Bias against mothers is one of the strongest forms of bias against women”.
Before even interviewing for a company women are 37 per cent points less likely to be offered the job based on their status according to the American Journal of Sociology. Bias in the workplace even pits women against each other, as childless women are found to be paid more than $11,000 than mothers, on top of salaries already 20% less than those of their male counterparts. Within the echelons of the workplace, researchers have found more evidence of ‘mommy bias’, as ‘working mothers are repeatedly forced to prove their worth and competency to their colleagues and employers, and that this syndrome is apparent most often when women return to the office after maternity leave’. However, according to experts, enterprises can combat these internal biases.
How to Combat Anti -Mother Bias at Work
In the U.S., in leadership positions, there are ‘just 66 women for every 100 men in such posts’, according to a report by McKinsey & Company. Enterprises who wish to drive inclusivity and retain growth, need to be aware of the difficulties for parents and in particular, support their female employees who are also working mothers. The gender leadership gap itself is even more worrying with research highlighting that while women make up 40% of the S & P 1500 companies workforce, just 6% of those are CEO’s . When organisations promote and encourage the advancement of women in the workplace, they stand to gain. In a 2010 global survey, it found that ‘those with the greatest proportion of women on their executive committees earned a return on equity 47% higher than did those with no female executive members’.
The research division of Goldman Sachs Global Markets Institute advise 4 key points for both working mothers and enterprises to mutually benefit from their roles as parents:
- Open Communication Channels
Working mothers and fathers need to understand clearly how their conflicting schedules will affect both parties. By clearly sharing any pressing obligations or scheduling conflicts, issues are identified for both parties.
- Support is crucial
Parents can benefit hugely from employer support, from parent employee support groups to mentoring from executives who are also parents. These kind of groups offer positive and networked support to reassure parents, and especially working mothers.
- Address Gender Bias
Companies who wish to stamp out negative perceptions of parents can facilitate training workshops. Companies like liveworklead.com offer enterprises and their employees constructive workshops whereby each individual can understand and learn more about diffusing inherent biases against parents.
- Increasing flexibility and adjusting schedules
Flexibility is a necessary component for working parents in a professional capacity. Flexibility itself increases morale and reduces staff turnover and for parents it allows them to manage personal and family responsibilities, more fluidly. For executives, they should be mindful of scheduling late night meetings and other events before 8am and after 6pm. If these are necessary, experts point that parents need an extra notice period to incorporate their childcare needs.
Executives in the board room who take a firm stance on ant-mother bias can contribute to the ‘organisational health’ of their company, which research has proven accelerates financial performance and drives overall company performance too.
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