Over the past year, more and more mothers have been forced out of the workforce. Now, several companies are making strides to both hire and support working parents.

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Over the last year, the pandemic has not only shed light on all the cracks in society but deepened them. Thanks to systemic factors like a lack of affordable, accessible child care and women continuing to carry the mental load for their families, they've been forced out of the workforce en masse. The total number of women who have left the labor force since February 2020 is more than 2.3 million, putting the women's labor force participate rate at 57 percent, which is the lowest it has been in 32 years, according to a January 2021 analysis from the National Women's Law Center.

"The perils of mothering in a pandemic is, in some way, affecting nearly every family, and this crisis is especially harming moms of color due to structural racism," notes Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director and CEO, MomsRising.

Now, in an effort to address this backslide, various companies are pledging to not only offer work to moms but make their professional experience more humane and livable. Here, several of the ways are working to address what President Joe Biden has called a "national emergency" and level the playing field.

An image of a mom working next to her daughter.
Credit: Getty Images.

Pledging to Hire More Moms

This week, Accenture, one of the largest consulting companies in the world, pledged to hire 150 mothers for technology, strategy, and consulting positions at its Midwest division, based in Chicago, ASAP, according to CNN Business. The company also said the roles will offer the new hires flexibility, support, training, and mentorship.

They plan to identify their candidates through a partnership with The Mom Project, a marketplace that connects professional women with companies. The organization told CNN that they'll focus on moms who are unemployed and want to make a career change. Lee Moore, senior managing director for Accenture Midwest, who is heading up the partnership, said, "The jobs that we're talking about for these moms are careers. They're highly coveted roles in technology and in consulting, they're the type of roles that enable them to support their family."

The plan has been well-received by MomsRising. "What Accenture is doing, prioritizing moms for positions in technology, strategy and consulting, is laudable, and we commend the company for promising the new hires will have flexibility, mentors and training," says Rowe-Finkbeiner.

Prioritizing Returnships

Meanwhile, companies like IBM are focusing on returnships, a concept trademarked by Goldman Sachs in 2008 which aims to recruit and sometimes bolster the skill sets of people who have been out of the workforce for several years. The goal is for them to then be hired into a full-time role.

At IBM, returnship applications are way up. Fortune.com reports applications in January and February for its internal program have increased 167 percent from a year earlier, and 99 percent of their returnship participants are women "who have disproportionate responsibilities around childcare or eldercare, which often take time away from work—even absent a pandemic," said Nickle LaMoreaux, IBM's chief HR officer.

Taking a Pledge to Support Working Parents

In addition to hiring and supporting female job applicants, some companies are zeroed in on improving benefits and quality of life for working parents. By partnering with Cleo, The Mom Project, Paid Leave for the United States, and Happiest Baby, a whole slew of companies such as Salesforce, Zoom, Pinterest, Etsy, Snapchat, and PepsiCo, became founding signatories of the "Invest in Parents Pledge." By signing the pledge, these companies have committed to advocating for and supporting working parents to help them participate in, remain in, and thrive in the workforce.

And how might that actually look in practice? Morrison and Foerster, an international law firm, signed the pledge and released a statement last summer explaining that they offer alternative work arrangements, support programs for new parents returning to work, internal support groups, family therapy webinars, and access to wellbeing and mindfulness resources to assist working parents during the pandemic.

The Bottom Line

As we hopefully move closer to a moment in which the worst of the pandemic is behind us, companies will need to stay committed to transforming the workforce to support working parents. Whether they make a conscious effort to hire more moms, offer more flexibility, foot the bill for child care, or create a culture that doesn't ding employees for caregiving and tending to their lives outside of work, the pandemic has made it clear that there's a wide variety of changes that need to be made. It's heartening to see that many leading employers are taking the first steps required to make work more doable for people raising kids, but broader systemic changes must be made as well.

As Rowe-Finkbeiner says, "The caregivers in our nation also need more than action by individual companies at this time when moms are being pushed out of our labor force in record numbers. We need Congress to step up by passing universal paid family and medical leave, earned sick days, fair wages, a higher minimum wage, and by making an investment in our child care system significant enough to make quality care affordable for all working families."