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When the aromatic scent of roses for Mother’s Day begins to waft in the air, let’s think about what bouquet we could offer our hardworking moms. Imagine this: a bouquet of flexible work options, wrapped in velvet petals of understanding and empathy. Now that’s a gift that keeps on giving!
The surprising state of motherhood
Motherly’s latest state of maternity report, with nearly 10,000 respondents, paints an interesting picture. The number of stay-at-home mothers nearly doubled between 2022 and 2023, jumping from 15% to 25%. The maternity pendulum seems to have returned to normal, remaining in the typical 24% to 28% range. Last year was an exception, an unusual flash on the radar, with much lower numbers of stay-at-home mothers.
Why? Because mothers were armed with a magic wand of work flexibility. As more and more companies herd their employees back into the office, some mothers find themselves in a tight corner. With no other choice, they take on full-time childcare, resulting in an exodus of the workforce.
According to Jill Koziol, CEO and co-founder of Motherly, “In 2022, mothers were riding the wave of flexible or hybrid work, relics of the pandemic era. With the sudden return to office work, it seems that the invoice was sent directly to the mother.”
This is what I tell my clients who decide on a flexible or inflexible return to office plan: if they don’t offer flexibility to mothers, large numbers will leave the workforce. This is an inevitable consequence of a top-down mandate.
Related: You should let your team decide how to approach hybrid work. A behavioral economist explains why and how to do it.
Who paid the price?
In our rush to return to “normal”, we may overlook the cost of such changes. Motherly’s survey tells of a quiet but significant departure from the workforce. And the numbers don’t lie. As many as 18% of mothers changed jobs or quit their jobs completely last year. Some may read these stats and shrug, but let’s delve into the reasons why.
For 28% of these mothers, wanting to be at home with their children was a driving force. On the surface, this seems like a personal choice, and indeed it is. But underneath there is a complex web of factors, including a lack of flexible work options.
For 15% of mothers, the lack of childcare was an obstacle. This is not a minor inconvenience. It’s a roadblock that holds back a mother’s career, often with long-term consequences.
Related: Why Forcing Employers to Return to the Office Leads to More Worker Power and Unionization
And yet the solution is not as elusive as it might seem. A Motherly study found that 64% of stay-at-home mothers would return to the workforce if offered flexible work schedules. The mere availability of flexible work is not a bonus or benefit. This is a powerful lever that can significantly change the employment landscape for mothers.
Imagine the impact. Thousands of mothers returning to the workforce, sharing their skills, perspectives and ideas. Thousands of families gain additional financial security. This is a win-win situation and all it requires is a change of perspective, a reassessment of our rigid work structures.
An alternative approach is to improve the affordability of childcare. More than half, or 52% of mothers surveyed, would go back to work if affordable childcare were available – less than flexibility, but still a large proportion. The current system, where the cost of childcare often eats up a significant portion of your paycheck, is unsustainable for many families.
But this is not a problem that individual families should deal with alone. Employers, policy makers and the general public have a role to play in creating solutions. This may include employer-sponsored childcare, subsidies or policies to help reduce childcare costs. So individual employers who do not want to be flexible should offer childcare support: they will not get the full benefits of flexibility by losing 12% of working mothers, but they will get most of the benefits.
Of course, most companies will not be able to afford such an expense. So here’s a radical idea for this Mother’s Day. Instead of typical gifts, consider giving mothers something that will make a real difference: flexible work. It doesn’t cost the company more money – instead, flexible working can save you money, up to $11,000 per employee. This is not a gift that is given once and forgotten. It’s a gift that keeps on giving, day after day, month after month. It’s a gift that reaffirms 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 where we not only declare the importance of work-life balance, but actively create the conditions that make it possible. An era where flexible working is not the exception, but the norm.
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