How to Make Your Company Friendlier to Working Mothers (and Why You Should)
Even if you don’t know it, there’s a good chance you have a mother working for your business—or you will in the future.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, nearly 70% of women with children younger than 18 are in the workforce; nearly 60% of women with infants are, too. Not only is that a lot of working mothers, but that’s simply a lot of workers in general. And with unemployment so low, from a simply economic standpoint, you can’t afford to not be competitive to these candidates. Many of them are in their mid-to-late 30s, bringing significant experience, too.
In order to make your company a desirable place for working mothers, you’ll likely have to make some changes to your company culture. These are more than just a few fringe benefits; they’re thoughtful changes with working mothers in mind. But they’re worth it—both for the health of your company, and your bottom line.
1. Get comfortable with flexibility.
Motherhood is unpredictable—that’s simply the nature of the job (yes, it’s a job). Being a mother requires flexibility, so it follows that employers who want to be friendlier to mothers need to be flexible, too. That can be difficult for companies who are used to very structured work days, attendance policies, or in-office cultures. But, in order to attract and retain top talent, and compete with employers offering the benefit of flexibility, you’ll have to get comfortable with the idea, too.
Often, the primary way that flexibility manifests, and that mothers request it, is with scheduling. As mothers re-enter the workforce after giving birth, consider a program that allows them to work from home part-time and readjust to office life gradually. In general, offering a more lenient remote work policy will allow mother breathe a sigh of relief on days their childcare flakes, or school has a snow day. Remember that the cost of childcare is prohibitively expensive—one of the top reasons why mothers don’t return to work after childbirth.
2. Create a private space.
Although the Fair Labor Standards Act does mandate that all small businesses must provide nursing mothers a private lactation space for their first year of nursing, this doesn’t always happen—and even then, what’s provided isn’t always enough. By law, the space must be something more than the bathroom, but some employers provide little more than a closet.
The space you provide for mothers is a signal to how you value them—their comfort, their lifestyle, and the difficulty of balancing home life and work life. Setting up a comfortable space where working mothers don’t feel harried—and even feel that they can get away for a moment—can make a major difference, especially during a time in which they’re sleeping less and stressing out more.
3. Offer an education savings plan.
Many employers have made strides with regards to creating better retirement plans and matching contributions. But parents are thinking bigger than themselves.
Offering the option for an education savings plan, like a 529 matching plan for college, can be a substantial draw for working mothers. In a similar vein to 401ks and IRAs, 529 savings accounts are tax-advantaged plans geared specifically for paying for education. Offering the option at your company can send a message that you are a family-friendly workplace. It’s the kind of perk you might even want to advertise in your job listings.
4. Consider reassessing your PTO policies.
It’s a big culture shift to go from a finite number of vacation days to an unlimited vacation policy. But for working mothers, employers who aren’t parsimonious with their paid time off are highly desirable. There are a few key reasons for this.
Among them, mothers need to plan their vacations around school holidays and vacations. It’s expensive to go away when everyone is planning vacations around the same times, and if they need to be counting their days, they can’t book in advance. Allowing them the leeway to know that they’ll be able to go when they have the small window to go is one fewer thing to worry about—as well as money saved.
Next goes back to flexibility. Say her child needs to go to the doctor one weekday. The last thing she wants to worry about is having to use one of her vacation days if she’s all out of sick or personal time. This kind of responsible leeway can make a world of difference.
5. Offer a shared assistant/amenities.
If you don’t have the ability for your workers to get work done off premises, or want to go above and beyond, consider actually offering onsite services. This could mean childcare at work so mothers don’t have to time pickup, or fitness classes so they don’t have to worry about squeezing in time for a workout.
You can even help alleviate stress by creating a shared concierge to run errands that can’t get done. For example, things like picking up dry cleaning, receiving packages, or grabbing ingredients for dinner.
Most importantly, one immediate change you can make is a simple change of mindset. Not every family unit is the same: Don’t assume she has a support network at home to help her out with basic tasks, or even an extended family or group of friends around to support her. In fact, make the baseline assumption that she’s raising her child or children on her own. Twenty-five percent of mothers are actually raising children on their own.
When a working mother makes a request, there’s likely a good reason for it. So be sensitive, and understand that when one job ends, there’s always another to go home to.
This guest post was authored by Meredith Wood
Meredith Wood is the Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans that matches business owners with the best funding providers for their business. Specializing in financial advice for small business owners, Meredith is a current and past contributor to Yahoo!, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, SCORE, AllBusiness and more.