Thoughts on Recruiting & Retaining Working Moms

To kick off the International Women's Day Celebrations,I jotted down a few suggestions for how employers can recruit and retain working moms for a wonderful site called MonsterThinking.com.

Originally posted here, I've included the content of my post below:*

As a career coach and organizational-development consultant working with many new parents, I hear the stories everyday from passionate, driven professionals: from a woman who can’t take a day off to be with her kids without the blackberry constantly buzzing; or from working mothers who hide on the floor of their offices, backs against the door, when it is time to pump.

There are stories of maternity leaves abruptly cut short, bosses suddenly finding new “problems” with their pregnant employee’s work and letting them go—and the lawsuits that followed.  One woman got this sage wisdom from a senior partner: “If you want to succeed in this business you better have a nanny that can stay late.”

Many women feel they are forced to choose between their career aspirations and their roles as mothers, as if they can no longer be taken seriously in their fields with little ones at home. There is a perception among some employers that a woman who chooses to start a family is somehow a less committed professional than her male counterparts or women who don’t have children.

The woman who chooses to start a family is seen as having divided loyalty between her personal and professional life. She may be seen as a transient member of the team, someone who is not worth the same investment.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With adjustments to organizational policies and culture, we can close the gap between the professional horizons of working mothers, working fathers, and their colleagues.

4 Ways For Employers To Make A Major Impact for Working Mothers

To start us off, here are four strong suggestions that can have a major impact on the professional outlook for working mothers and their employers.

1. Let’s Dump Unhelpful Phrases like “Mommy Track” or “On-Ramping and Off-Ramping.”

Yes, employees make decisions about when—and if—they take time off to be with their kids. Employees also decide to go back to school while working, or to take care of an elderly parent: this doesn’t mean they are not committed to their work. It means that, like all of us, they are balancing their personal and professional needs.

As this study by Working Mother Media illustrates, if a mom chooses to be at work, he or she wants to be respected and valued. Parents don’t want to be pushed off to the side, or given less engaging assignments.

2. This Is Not Just A Woman’s Issue.

It is vital that employers regard this as a company challenge—important for all individuals and for the health of the organization—not only an issue for female employees. Paternity leave and flextime are often not as readily available to men, and men don’t feel as comfortable taking it. Companies should encourage male employees to engage in the work-life conversation.

If we level the expectations for both genders, we will not have such an insurmountable disparity in the opportunities available to men and women. This TED talk by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg offers a powerful perspective on leveling the playing field.

3. Flexibility Means Redefining Our Concept of Work.

There are many kinds of flexible work arrangements (job shares, telecommuting, etc.), and not all of them will work for every company or every employee. At the heart of the concept of flexibility, though, is the notion that work can be re-imagined. Work should be about producing results and accomplishing goals, not about logging hours at a desk or showing up at a specific hour.

The evidence is overwhelming that employees will work harder and more efficiently when they feel they have control over their own time (the embedded video from  Life Meets Work is definitely worth watching). When a parent needs to pick up her child at day care and still deliver a report by the morning, a flexible atmosphere can allow her to satisfy all her obligations—on her own time, using her own best judgment. If we measure commitment by who stays at the office the latest, parents will always fall behind.

4. Parents do have unique needs.  Don’t Let That Stand In The Way of Retaining Talent.

We should fully acknowledge that many of these accommodations—such as generous paid leave programs or child-care support—are time-consuming and expensive. These vital conversations can also be difficult ones. Still, the long-term benefits are clear: the return on your investment will be loyalty and productivity from a motivated and capable talent pool.

Countless respected institutions, including the Families and Work Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have demonstrated that offering these kinds of programs and developing these sensitivities is a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Companies that excel in these areas see great benefits in retention, recruitment, efficiency, and innovation. In short, addressing these challenges is more than worth the effort.