Embracing our Mothers Beyond Mother’s Day By Jason R. Mau

01-Jun-2018

Embracing our Mothers Beyond Mother’s Day

by Jason R. Mau

While this article will reach publication at a later date, at the time of its preparation, Mother’s Day was just around the corner.   Normally we do not consider employment issues when we are celebrating our mothers.  However, this year I came across a recent study that placed Idaho at the bottom of its list of best states for working mothers to live.  Of course nobody likes to see their home show up at the bottom of any list, and this study is no exception.    

Our first reaction to such a study or finding may be to question the data and the factors that were measured to compile the study, but when you are at the bottom of the list it is unlikely that tweaking the breadth and weight of any factors is going to help much.  (Although I cannot help but point out that the same organization rated areas of Idaho near the top 15% of best places to get married, in the top half of best states to have a baby, and listed in the top 10% of best places to raise a family, although it did rank Idaho as the 41st state in its list of best states for women overall.)  Regardless, the study provides an opportunity to discuss steps employers can take to improve the working environment for all working parents, especially mothers. 

Acknowledging Challenges to Working Mothers

This particular study focused on three main elements, gathering data from many credible national sources – child care, career opportunities, and work-life balance, all very important to mothers (and fathers) in the workplace.  Child care took into account quality and costs, as well as pediatricians per capita, and included the quality of school systems.  (A questionable metric in this category, given as much weight as costs, was the share of accredited child care centers which, clearly favors more densely-populated states.)  Career opportunities included metrics for gender pay gap, median women’s salary, gender-representation gap in different sectors, female unemployment rate, and ratio of female-to-male executives.  The work-life balance element was split between parental leave policies, length of women’s work week, and women’s average commute time. 

These factors help illustrate the challenges that all working mothers face.  Granted, most factors in the child care section are not typically part of an employer’s focus, but business opportunities and work-life balance are all factors that are closely connected to the everyday operations of businesses everywhere.  Unfortunately, there was nearly a three-times difference between Idaho and the highest ranking states for the female-to-male executive ratio, and a five-times difference in the category for quality of day-care systems, both likely accounting for Idaho’s low overall ranking.  Regardless of the rankings, they help illustrate the overall challenges to working mothers in general, as nobody wishes to be given little opportunity to succeed in the workplace or have few options for quality care of children during work hours. 

Improving the Experience for Working Mothers

Although this report looks discouraging for Idaho, it does not mean that Idaho employers are not cooperating with mothers in the workplace.  In fact, many employers are very conscious of work atmospheres conducive to working mothers, and typically include many programs or policies in their workplace that can enable and encourage a good work-life balance for mothers.  The most common of the policies employers should consider, and maybe the least complicated to adopt, are extended health care benefits, flexible work schedules, parental or caregiver leave, long-term protection of benefits for parents returning to the workplace, and some level of child care assistance.  Granted, workforces are limited in what they can do to change the overall perception for working mothers as it is well recognized that government regulations affect the effectiveness and appeal for these options.  However, companies that institute policies and practices that develop a culture of support for the work-life balance of its employees, including mothers, will likely recognize a reduction in day-to-day stress, and in doing so, will find increased job satisfaction and loyalty in its employees. 

  • Health benefits

Many companies already utilize the type of health care benefits that are supportive of mothers and their families.  Of course an affordable health care plan is a primary benefit for all mothers.  Every family is different, but each appreciates economy.  Mothers also appreciate quality options, thus companies that provide cafeteria-style benefits may be attractive to families looking for a fair plan that works best for them.  The most recognized option is a tax-deferred dependent care savings account.  Offering an EAP can also be a great resource for mothers, as the best programs extend counseling options to immediate family members, and will offer counseling for all life events to help with all family stresses that may arise throughout motherhood.  This will allow mothers to locate the resources they need to manage many daily demands.

  • Flexible Work Schedules

Allowing employees more flexibility with their schedules can also assist a mother with her day-to-day responsibilities.  Traditionally, mothers have been the parent primarily responsible for much of the daily care-taking for her family, but in the modern workplace, both parents are likely employed.  Thus, many companies recognize that outdated scheduling structures generate unnecessary stress for some of these daily care responsibilities.  By focusing on time management and an updated understanding of productivity, employers can be confident that providing flexibility to mothers through flexible start and stop times, compressed work weeks, and telecommuting can produce long-term results.  However, just espousing flexibility and support will not suffice; supervisors must support requests for a flexible work arrangement if the organization wants to be perceived as mother-friendly.  That perception will not be possible if mothers have any sense of fear that the request will result in some type of retribution in the future.  This may require a commitment from top management and some updated training and accountability policies. 

  • Leave Programs

A positive perception can also be generated by a generous parental leave policy.  Current leave policies that are attractive to mothers are those that provide paid leave for both mothers and fathers after the birth or adoption of a child.  Companies that made the top list for working mothers offer an average of 10 weeks of paid parental leave.  However, paid parental leave is still not widespread, with only a handful of states requiring paid parental leave, and many experts still point to the fact that leave policies in America are far behind other developed nations.  However, where offered, parental leave is still not being used to its full potential as experts are finding that many fathers are not taking advantage of the policies, themselves worrying about the effect on their careers.  Thus, a work culture supporting the use of these policies by all is critical to encouraging the support and advancement of mothers in the workforce.  These type of issues may not make parental leave programs attractive to all employers, but even adopting a general PTO leave policy may have indirect benefits to mothers as an employee will be allowed to use days for any purpose without having to provide specifics to their employer.

  • Child Care

Those recognized as the best family-friendly companies are also adopting child care assistance policies that go beyond providing tax deferrals for dependent care.  Assistance can be financial or it can be more hands-on.  Child care grants are one choice that do not require much involvement in the mothers’ process of locating quality child care for their developing children and instead just help subsidize the care.  But some companies are more creative and more involved in this process, providing on-site child care facilities for their employees to help reduce commutes and attract a wider range of employees.  However, the added liability and fluctuating demand of on-site care centers are forcing some employers to look at different perks for their working mothers, and turning instead to programs that focus on providing back-up or emergency child care.  These programs are designed to help relieve stressful disruptions to working mothers when regular daycare arrangements fall through, providing a helpful and beneficial service to working parents without having to invest in full-time child care. 

  • Other Benefits

While upgraded health benefits, flexible work schedules, parental leave programs, and childcare assistance are not the only programs or policies that will make your company more attractive to mothers, they are generally viewed as four of the more common or most accessible programs.  Other companies have certainly gone the extra mile for mothers and sought to adopt other policies to make a mother’s workday more comfortable, like offering time and space for breastfeeding or making special accommodations like breastmilk shipment if a mother’s job requires extensive travel.  Still other companies have taken more innovative approaches to supporting motherhood, some by offering financial assistance for adoptions, or larger companies like Facebook, Google, and Apple have even started offering a new perk of oocyte cryopreservation – egg freezing!   

Conclusion

Hopefully it did not take Mother’s Day to remind your company of the unique struggles that working mothers face each day and you have already considered the types of support you can provide to reduce daily stresses.  If not, this time of the year is a great time to start.