Working Mother: Here's how we can have a happier Mother's Day

“The key to women advancing is partly in the hands of working dads,” says Subha Barry, president of Working Mother Media.
Subha Barry, president of Working Mother Media.
Subha Barry, president of Working Mother Media.Miller Hawkins

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By Subha Barry

What would happen if men could have babies? Now that’s taking things to the absurd, but the fact remains that most women with careers have three jobs: as an employee in the office, a mother and the scheduler-in-chief for the entire family.

We all agree that a mom’s role is invaluable. After all, working mothers do twice as much unpaid work as men, and its impact on society, though not always top of mind, is worth highlighting.

According to Research Moms, a group at Edison Research who conducted 500 online interviews of moms with kids under the age of 21 living at home, 83 percent of the stay-at-home moms are responsible for the majority of the parenting. More surprising is that 87 percent of the full-time working moms are too.

The responsibilities these moms took the lead on include scheduling children’s doctor appointments (83 percent), buying cards and gifts (76 percent), staying at home when the child is sick (75 percent) and planning birthday parties (67 percent). They are also overwhelmingly responsible for helping with homework, shopping for kids, filling out school and activity forms, doing laundry, grocery shopping, packing for outings and vacations, prepping meals and assigning household chores. Less than 26 percent of these moms share these tasks evenly with someone else, not even their spouse. Surprisingly, only 8 percent resent their husbands for not pitching in more.

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These second and third shifts I’m referring to take more and more time off the clock for that working mom. Is it any wonder that she isn’t able to attend networking events after work or stay at the office long hours taking on extra projects? White women already make only 80 cents for every dollar that a white man makes, and the gap is wider for black and Hispanic women!

Overlay motherhood on top of gender and race, and you have added challenges: A mom with one child makes 7 percent less than a woman without children, and a mom with two children makes 14 percent less. The motherhood penalty couldn’t be clearer.

The good news is companies are increasingly focused on becoming talent-intelligent organizations. When polled, most global CEOs point to recruiting and retaining the best talent as their single biggest leadership challenge—not technology, global economic challenges, cybersecurity, terror threats, or political uncertainty.

Over the course of their careers, women leave the workforce for a number of reasons—the most common of which comes with motherhood and the difficulty managing and integrating the demands of work and family. Companies realize that they must retain women employees through these periods and provide a plethora of benefits to support them. From generous maternity leave to fully paid phase-back programs; from shipping breast milk to part-time work; from flexibility to mentorship and support for new moms; they are pulling out all the stops.

There is, however, one more incredible tool in their arsenal: engaging men. This means expanding maternity and paternity leave to create gender-neutral parental leave, and just as critical, helping men understand how supporting their spouses as they return from maternity leave can enable women’s career success.

If every dad took his entire parental leave—when the baby is born, when their spouses phase back to work or when their baby is sick in the first 12 months—their partners’ careers would flourish. This is not the norm yet, but I am confident that the couple of generations that follow the boomers will make it a reality.

The key to women advancing is partly in the hands of working dads. And companies can help drive that attitude and behavior change, not just through instituting dad-inclusive policies but also by publicly encouraging their father employees to take all their leave, training managers on how to encourage their dad reports to take all their leave and having executive dads practice what they preach. When men in the C-suite lead by example and take all their parental leave, it shows lower-level male workers that it’s OK for them to do the same.

As we wish the moms in our lives a happy Mother’s Day, let’s ask the dads to take ALL of the parental leave that is offered to them, do their share in parenting their children, and work the second and third shifts as fully engaged partners.

Subha V. Barry is a world recognized diversity and inclusion expert and currently serves as the President of Working Mother Media.