To Bring Working Moms Back To The Office, We Need More of Them in Leadership Positions

In far too many companies, there still aren't working mothers—or even women—in leadership positions. By prioritizing women in leadership, companies will organically evolve into spaces where women feel seen, heard, and valued.

An image of a woman working in an office.
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I once worked for an organization that was voted a best place to work for mothers. As a young mom myself, I was proud to work for a place with amazing parental perks. They promoted flexibility, which meant I could leave work early for my child's doctor appointments. They had child care onsite and comfy nursing mother rooms.

But as I continued my career at the organization, one thing bothered me—there were little to no women in the senior leadership teams. The unconscious message to me felt clear: while I could enjoy the added benefits, my daughter may never actually see me rise above a certain level of leadership. The lack of a diverse leadership team played into my decision to eventually leave the organization.

The State of Leadership in the U.S.

Currently, women hold just 6 percent of CEO positions in the United States. And women, especially women of color, remain underrepresented at every level of leadership. They also receive less leadership support than men at every level.

Here's another issue: because women bear the brunt of caregiving, they have also been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. By January 2021, there were 2.3 million less women in the workforce compared to the year before. Women are more burned out now than a year ago.

Why We Need Moms in Leadership Positions

As a leadership coach for women, many clients tell me what turns them away from job applications is seeing no women on the company leadership team. Aside from the need for representation, women leaders often enhance work culture and provide policies that benefit parents.

They tend to do more to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, and are better allies to people of color. Women leaders have started resource groups that are addressing the real problems working moms are facing like care options or a lack of flexibility at work.

Analysis of women-led businesses supports this. For example, Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd, recently made headlines for her leave policies, which includes six months of maternity and paternity leave.

Research also shows that women who work for companies with strong gender equity policies are more loyal, retention levels are higher, and these companies report higher levels of well-being.

What Should Leaders Do To Get Working Moms Back

The most simple—but perhaps the hardest—thing is asking women employees what they want, listening to their responses, and taking action on their ideas.

Marcy Klipfel, the CHRO of Businessolver, an employee benefits technology firm, explains that it's important to look at what drove women to leave in the first place. "Of course, effective resolution of those issues will look different for every workplace. And the bad news is that if we knew how to do it, we wouldn't be facing this crisis at all," she adds.

While the issues and resolutions can vary between workplaces, there are key focus areas that employers can explore. This includes:

Flexibility and remote work options

Theresa Nordstrom, CEO of Talent Company Inc., explains that as an executive recruiter, most of her clients are seeking remote work options and flexibility. "Without a doubt, companies that choose not to have hybrid or virtual [work options] are limiting their candidate pool to a less diverse, less female talent pool," Nordstrom explains.

Good child care options

When I was in corporate, the cost of child care was enough to keep me from looking for another job as I couldn't risk losing the one I had. The starting point to addressing the burden of child care costs is simply asking the question: how can we assist with child care? Potential solutions include offering stipends to help cover costs or providing affordable on-site daycare.

Manageable work hours

Employees working remotely can be online at all hours. This doesn't mean they should be. Leaders with good work boundaries set an example for the entire company. Employees who disconnect and recharge are more likely to perform their best work when they are online and less likely to burnout. Klipfel adds, "with burnout and voluntary turnover still rising, employers have the incentive to face and resolve these problems once and for all to make the workplace an engaging, empowering, and productive place for everyone, regardless of gender."

Promoting women to leadership positions

This isn't about having one woman as the token Chief HR Officer. To truly shift company culture, women should be promoted to all areas of leadership and paid equitably to their male counterparts.

Ultimately, when future employees look up your company's leadership team and see themselves represented, they will know that it is an organization that encourages their growth. By prioritizing women in leadership, companies will organically evolve into spaces where women, especially moms, feel seen, heard, and valued.

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