Productivity software company Basecamp made the news recently for banning “societal and political discussions” at work, following in the footsteps of Coinbase’s similar policy. On the surface, this move seems reasonable. Political discussions can get heated and be a distraction for busy employees with work to do.
But as a mother who employs other mothers, I know that it’s impossible to separate what’s happening in society from work.
Pre-pandemic, working mothers experienced a very real motherhood penalty, impacting their job prospects, career advancement, and lifetime earning potential. Over the past year, it’s only gotten worse. More than 2 million women left the workforce, with the number of women citing child care as their reason for leaving their jobs increasing by a staggering 178 percent. Women of color were disproportionately impacted, experiencing job loss at higher rates with less access to paid sick leave and child care benefits.
Instead of building a work culture that suppresses the very real issues facing mothers in the country, CEOs and leaders should be advocating for a more equitable future that makes it possible to be a working mother in America. Now is absolutely the time to get political and change the status quo.
Understanding the motherhood penalty
Working moms currently make up about a third of all working women. Pre-pandemic, the majority of mothers working both full-time and part-time wanted to be working because they felt it was the ideal arrangement for them to support their families.
Despite this, mothers have historically been less hirable than women without children. One report found that women without children received twice as many hiring callbacks as mothers, and were eight times more likely to be recommended for promotion by management.
Most striking, when mothers are hired, they earn less than other women. Analysis shows that motherhood costs $16,000 per year on average in lost wages.
Tapping into the motherhood advantage
At my company, Winnie, over half of our employees are women, and 35 percent have children under the age of 10. Our workplace looks like this not by chance. We set out to build a company that would be an incredible place for parents to work. We did this first and foremost because my co-founder and I knew this would be a strategic advantage based on how mothers actually perform in the workplace.
There’s a direct correlation between motherhood and productivity at work– productivity that increases with the number of children a mother has. Mothers of two or more children were found to be more productive than mothers of one child, and mothers, in general, more productive than non-parents.
Research also shows that when women are well represented among leadership positions, companies are 50 percent more likely to outperform their peers. The advantage of having mothers in the workplace is not only upheld by data but also public opinion, with 89 percent of Americans agreeing that working moms in leadership positions bring out the best in employees.
Let’s get political
Even with all the advantages that working mothers bring to the workplace, women’s labor force participation is currently at a 33 year low.
We now have an opportunity to change that. Joe Biden just revealed his American Families Plan, an ambitious plan to provide unprecedented supports to families and children in this country. Whether or not you agree with every part of the plan, this national spotlight means company leaders have an opportunity to advocate for real change.
One part of the plan is national paid leave. The United States is currently one of the only developed countries with no national paid leave. The result is that mothers disproportionately drop out of the workforce. The corporate world can and should lead by example here until the country catches up.
Generous parental leave is often considered in the context of mothers, but perhaps not as intuitive is the importance of including fathers in this benefit. Research shows that when fathers are given better access to parental leave, they become more engaged in caregiving responsibilities and take on a more equal share of household tasks. Employers can support working mothers by extending parental leave to all parents, and ensuring that both men and women take equal leave.
Another part of the plan is an investment in our caregiving infrastructure, from universal child care to investments in the care workforce. There are many ways companies can recognize the importance of caregiving work. Whether you provide onsite childcare or simply give employees flexibility and freedom to handle daycare pickup or a sick child, you’re sending the message that caregiving is essential.
This Mother’s Day, fight against the status quo to build a workplace that hires and retains mothers. It’s inherently political and it’s also the best gift you can give this generation of working moms.