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As the aromatic scent of Mother’s Day roses begins to waft through the air, let’s think about a different kind of bouquet to offer to our hard-working moms. Imagine a bouquet of flexible work options wrapped in the velvety petals of understanding and empathy. That’s a gift that keeps on giving!
The surprising state of motherhood
The newest state of motherhood report by Motherly, with almost 10,000 mother respondents, paints an interesting picture. The number of stay-at-home mothers will almost double between 2022 and 2023, from 15% to 25%. It seems that the motherhood pendulum has swung back to its norm and remains within the typical range of 24% to 28%. Last year was the outlier, a notable blip on the radar, with a significantly lower number of stay-at-home moms.
Why? Because moms were armed with the magic wand of work flexibility. As more companies push their employees back to the office, some moms find themselves in a tough spot. With no other choice, they take on full-time jobs to care for their children, causing an exodus from the workforce.
According to Jill Koziol, CEO and co-founder of Motherly, “In 2022, mothers were riding the wave of flexible or hybrid work arrangements, leftovers from the pandemic era. With the abrupt return to office work, it seems that the bill is going straight to mothers. “
That’s what I tell my clients who decide whether to have a flexible or inflexible one back to office plan: If they don’t offer flexibility to mothers, a large number will leave the workforce. It is an inevitable consequence of a mandate from above.
Related: You need to let your team determine their approach to hybrid work. A behavioral economist explains why and how to do it.
Who paid the price?
In our rush to get back to “normal,” we may overlook the costs of such transitions. The Motherly survey tells a story of a quiet yet impactful departure from the workforce. And the numbers don’t lie. A whopping 18% of moms changed jobs last year or left the workforce entirely. Some might read this statistic and shrug, but let’s dig deeper into why.
For 28% of these mothers, the desire to be at home with their children was the driving force. At first glance, this seems like a personal choice, and it is. But underneath, a complex network of factors comes into play, including the lack of flexible work options.
For 15% of mothers, the absence of childcare was the deal breaker. This is no minor inconvenience. It’s a roadblock that puts the brakes on a mother’s career, often with long-term consequences.
Related: Why employers are forcing a return to the office leads to increased worker power and unionization
The flexibility factor
And yet the solution is not as elusive as it seems. The Motherly survey found that 64% of stay-at-home moms would return to the labor market if they were given flexible work schedules. The mere availability of flexible work is not a bonus or perk. It’s a powerful lever that can significantly change the job landscape for mothers.
Imagine the impact. Thousands of moms returning to work and contributing their skills, perspectives and ideas. Thousands of families will receive extra financial security. It’s a win-win situation and all it takes is a shift in perspective, a re-evaluation of our rigid work structures.
An alternative approach is to improve the affordability of childcare. More than half, 52% of mothers surveyed, would return to work if affordable childcare was available. The current system, where the cost of childcare often eats up a significant portion of the salary, is unsustainable for many families.
But this is not a problem that individual families should bear alone. Employers, policy makers and society as a whole all have a role to play in creating solutions. These include employer-sponsored childcare, grants, or policies that help reduce childcare costs. Individual employers who are unwilling to be flexible should therefore provide childcare support: they will not get all the benefits of flexibility and miss out on 12% of working mothers, but they will get most of the benefits.
Of course, most companies will not be able to afford those costs. So here’s a radical idea for this Mother’s Day. Instead of the typical gifts, let’s consider giving moms something that will really make a difference: flexible work. It doesn’t cost the company more money, but flexible working saves money, for an amount of up to $11,000 per employee. This is not a gift that is given once and then forgotten. It is a gift that keeps on giving, day after day, month after month. It is a gift that recognizes the reality of motherhood and the value of a mother’s contribution to the workforce. Let’s make this Mother’s Day the beginning of a new era. An era in which we not only pay lip service to the importance of work-life balance, but actively create the conditions that make it possible. An era in which flexible working is not the exception, but the norm.
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