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Workplace Inclusivity: Are Organisations Equipped To Support Modern Moms?

Despite positive changes, workplaces have a long way to go when it comes to supporting working mothers.

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Gender
4 min read
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"The lack of support for working mothers is a major issue that needs to be addressed. Many organisations still have a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to work that doesn't consider the needs of working mothers. This not only harms women but also limits the potential of their organisations."
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of 20-First

I remember the day when one of my colleagues asked for a discussion to assess institutional preparedness to welcome another colleague after her maternity leave.

It was an intense meeting with many issues raised and discussed: Do we have safe space to feed the baby? Won't bringing the baby to office disturb others? Are we ready to acknowledge her needs? How do we ensure she doesn't feel like a 'burden' to the organisation?

Despite having progressive policies, supportive structures, and inclusive staff, I realised that there was a considerable distance to cover when it came to meeting the needs of new mothers.

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It was also a reminder of the pervasive cultural biases and burden that working mothers experience in the workplace, community, and home that need to be addressed. Organisations developing and executing effective response mechanisms are a critical step in that direction.

For seventy percent women with children under 18 in the labour force, this shift has brought about positive changes such as increased financial stability, greater autonomy, and empowerment for women.

However, "leakage," where mothers drop out of the workforce due to discrimination and lack of support, threatens these gains, with broader social and economic consequences, including lost talent and increased welfare burden.

Empowering Mothers, Empowering Organisations

The primary responsibility of childcare continues to be placed on mothers and female family members, and this outdated perception has remained unchanged.

As a consequence, women have been and continue to be burdened with dual workload, and fall prey to the superwoman syndrome – the belief that they must excel at both their career and their family responsibilities.

A survey conducted by FlexJobs found that 31% of working mothers had to quit their jobs or reduce their hours to manage childcare because of a lack of flexibility at work.

To address this, organisations must acknowledge the evolving needs of mothers and foster an inclusive environment that ensures their comfort and acceptance, free from judgement.

It is crucial to provide or support them with childcare within the organisation and actively encourage men's involvement by offering paternity leave, childcare leave, and flexible work hours.
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Not only will it benefit the mothers, but it will also lead to higher employee satisfaction, retention rates, and increased productivity.

A report by the International Finance Corporation found that gender-inclusive policies, including support for working mothers, can lead to improved financial performance for companies.

Discrimination, Childcare, and Overwork

In India, the lack of accessible childcare remains a major barrier for working mothers, with only 9.8% of children under six, enrolled in formal childcare (NSSO). However, entry and re-entry to workforce is not easy in India.

A study found that only 18-34% married women continued working after having a child (BBC, 2015). Another study found that only 38% of Indian women who take maternity leave return to their previous employer, with many facing difficulty finding a job that accommodates their needs as working mothers.

Additionally, the prevailing culture of overwork and long hours is also a major concern.

A Harvard Business School survey found that a whopping 94% of professionals work more than 50 hours per week. Such workloads can lead to burnout and decreased productivity, further perpetuating discrimination against working mothers.

Supporting mothers in the workplace has strong links to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 5 aims for gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, while SDG 8 aims for inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all.

Gender diversity in leadership, identified by the World Economic Forum, is crucial for achieving the SDGs.

Companies with gender-diverse executive teams were found to have 25% higher profitability, according to a McKinsey & Company report (2020).
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Therefore, fostering a supportive and inclusive workplace for mothers not only benefits individuals and organisations but also contributes to global efforts towards a more sustainable and equitable world.

Looking Beyond the 9-5

The onus is not on our already nervous moms – it is on the organisations to design more equitable workplaces to create more conducive environments. 

This can be accomplished through a collective effort from male and female allies in the workplace. We must also reconsider our culture's obsession with instant gratification and the demand for immediate results.

Furthermore, it is important to recognise that flexible working arrangements do not equate to not working, but rather the ability to work in alignment with multiple demands.

We need to reimagine office logistics to alleviate financial and emotional burdens on our employees who request basic accommodations. It is time to prioritise the needs of our female workforce and provide them with the respect and support they deserve.

(Pranita Achyut works as the Director Research and Programs at ICRW Asia. She brings over 20 years of experience in applied research and program monitoring, particularly on gender, gender-based violence, adolescent health, and family planning. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  workplace   Working Moms 

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