Improve Retention through Balanced Policies for Working Mothers

July 16, 2021
Author: Rosie Greaves, Contributing Writer

Anyone who hires or is responsible for headcount is aware of shifts in the job market. Specifically, during the worst of COVID-19, employers saw women exit the workforce in large numbers. Between February 2020 and January 2021, 2.5 million women withdrew from the labor force, well above the 1.8 million total for men. While women make up a majority share of service industry roles that were heavily impacted by forced closures during the pandemic, others chose to stay home to fulfill caregiver responsibilities and limit the chance of bringing home the virus. Over the past year, many of these women have had a chance to rethink their career options.

Companies that create a mom- and dad-friendly work culture will have the advantage.

Despite the lifting of COVID restrictions and job gains in female-dominated industries such as retail, education, healthcare, childcare and salons, as of June 2021, there were still 4.6% fewer women (around 3 million) in the workforce than pre-COVID.

The mass exodus set diversity and inclusion initiatives on their heels and negatively impacted available talent supply. While the job market remains tight, what can be done to bring women back to work? What work culture changes can you make to better support women?

In the U.S., nearly one third of working women have children under 18. With the spotlight on the gender pay gap and imbalance of women in leadership roles, companies with policies that create a more equitable and inclusive workplace for women have a strategic talent advantage.

Take action now to attract and retain women with children - here are some things to consider:

Create a Mom-friendly Workplace

To keep more women with children in the labor force, employers can shift how they view workers who are also caregivers – and fathers and caregivers to elder parents. Creating policies that provide more work-life balance for all employees can create a work culture that gives workers the on-the-job support they need.

As you evaluate your current workplace policies, here are five steps you can take to help keep and attract the right talent:

1. Address childcare options
Unreliable child care is a significant issue. Even when moms work outside of the home full-time, multiple surveys have shown that they still shoulder the majority of child care responsibilities. Can or will companies supplement or provide coverage for this expense? This benefits families, not just women.

2. Provide flexibility wherever possible.
Parents who work outside of the home crave flexible work schedules. Schools, daycare centers and eldercare facilities have set times for drop-off and pick-up, making it challenging to begin work precisely at 8 a.m. or stay later than 5 p.m. The good news is that once these employees find a manager or employer that will accommodate their needs, they’re less likely to look for a position elsewhere.

3. Accept that life happens.
In addition to needing some flexibility in their schedules, employees with children will occasionally need to work from home when they are sick or leave early for a child’s medical appointment. This is especially true for new parents who are going through an adjustment phase. This doesn’t mean that these employees aren’t dependable – quite the opposite. Having an adaptable and understanding leadership style creates more career stability for these employees, which helps your organization’s retention rate.

4. Train managers to lead more inclusively.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have become more than just a buzzword in recent years. Learning how to accommodate parents who work outside of the home – who may need flexible hours or remote-work options is part of this training. With remote work becoming more mainstream, many managers have had to adapt.

5. Offer parental leave and make sure parents use it.
While recognizing that women typically carry the primary childcare responsibilities, it is crucial to demonstrate that you’re an employer with policies that provide support for families as well as a culture that supports the use of those policies. In the U.S., the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected time for medical reasons, including caring for a newborn or newly adopted child. However, employees and employers must meet specific requirements. Maternity leave can range from six to 12 weeks, depending on the employer and the type of role.

Paternity leave can range from two to eight weeks, though many men do not have the option or fear career repercussions for using this benefit. To encourage more men to take it, leadership members will need to lead by example. Also, for companies with a small, interconnected workforce, phasing in parents on leave from part-time hours back to full-time can help ease the transition for both the working parent and their co-workers.

By providing parental support for men, you create a company culture that recognizes that all employees are important, respected and valued. Your policies give your employees the freedom to challenge existing norms and the roles of breadwinner and caregiver.

With unemployment dropping, the available talent tight and the high cost of a new hire, the value of a retained employee is climbing. While being a mother working outside of the home will always be a balancing act, companies that create a mom- and dad-friendly work culture will have the advantage.

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