In 2022, it was found that 73% of mothers were working, with 25% of these in full time jobs and more recently it was revealed that one in 10 working mothers have quit their jobs, with one in five considering leaving work due to the challenges that come with balancing professional and childcare duties.

It was also found that nearly eight in 10 (79%) women have faced barriers to progression while managing childcare. The inequality that women are facing when it comes to their career progression and balancing the two sides of the coin is dubbed the ‘Motherhood Penalty’.

Given that 85% of working mothers have stated that they struggle to find a job that can accommodate their childcare needs, employers should consider the potential loss of talent and look at how they support mothers, in order to retain and support them as employees.

One of the factors many working mothers are looking for to combat the ‘Motherhood Penalty’ is  flexibility in the workplace

Flexible working arrangements, financial consultation and mental wellbeing can be invaluable to individuals and demonstrate an inclusive culture that considers the needs of parents.

Returning to work after pregnancy and childbirth is a high-risk time. The transition is a huge adjustment. Employers can be helpful here as well.

Our Mental Health Index also found that parents are 48% more likely than non-parents to report wanting flexibility in work location and 46% are more likely to report wanting flexibility in work hours. It is important for employers to work with employees, and more specifically managers should work with individual teams and staff members, to determine the type of flexibility that is possible and most needed.

If location flexibility is less possible, then perhaps flexible hours can be accommodated. Starting later enables school drop off and leaving earlier and finishing part of the workday a home can support after school pick up. Even mid-day breaks can enable critical telephone call and child related errands. Flexibility to the extent possible is key for working parents.

Workplaces having suitable initiatives and support in place is key to improving outcomes for working mothers. Our Mental Health Index found that parents are nearly twice as likely as non-parents to report that better benefits are the reason they are considering leaving.

In addition to flexibility, virtual services (counselling and physician support) help parents manage their most scarce resource. Time.

One effective way is by providing back to work coaching and providing employees with one-to-one time to decompress, ask any questions and get the support they need from their workplace. Having a safe space to discuss one’s concerns and challenges can help in taking off the load, in already stressful situations.

Financial issues are a factor in retention as well. According to the Fawcett society, working mothers are 1.4 times more likely to feel the financial burden of childcare costs compared to working fathers. This will be especially detrimental to single mothers and financial consultations or discount schemes on certain expenses could be considered by workplaces to alleviate the added monetary stress that can come with parenthood. Financial strain is however not generally caused by one thing. Financial consultation services that may be available as part of an EAP, is an important resource, especially now.

In a tight labour environment like the one we’re in now, companies may struggle to retain talent and tackle skills shortages amongst their workforces. There are clear benefits to nurturing a current workforce, made up of working mothers. Uplifting working mothers and teaching them new skills helps them to thrive in their role after maternity leave, and will not only instil confidence in them, but allows business leaders to utilise their existing top talent- saving them from a costly recruitment process.

Businesses mustn’t forget the importance of cultivating an open and honest workplace culture, inclusive of working parents. This can mean parent peer support groups, flexibility, and empathy around workload and school holiday time. The appreciation for such efforts among parents is significant and will yield workplace benefits for years to come.

Supporting working mothers, whether that’s new parents straight out of maternity leave or mothers with young children, is critical for any workplace. ‘To have it both ways’ should be the norm, encouraged and implemented by employers and working mothers should never feel that they have to choose between their responsibilities as a parent and their progression in the workplace.

Employers would do well to show Empathy. By doing so, companies can tackle the ‘Motherhood Penalty’ head on while making strikes in retaining and attracting mothers in the workplace.

Having these initiatives in place shows existing team members that the culture is people focused. It also attracts new talent and ultimately protects the bottom line of the company. Tackling the Motherhood Penalty should be a top priority for business leaders in 2024, starting with reviewing the processes already in place for working parents.

Paula Allen
Global Leader and Senior Vice-President of Research and Total Wellbeing at TELUS Health | + posts

Paula Allen is the Global Leader and Senior Vice-President of Research and Total Wellbeing at TELUS Health. Paula manages the research agenda, which includes primary research, exploratory data science, research collaborations and meta-analyses. Paula has expert knowledge and expertise in current issues and the future direction of health, wellbeing, productivity and related risk management.