Mothers are amazing and need more from their workplace

May 6, 2023

I’m a mom of three children, now young adults, so Mother’s Day has real meaning to me, as it does to the millions of moms who will celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend.

The workplace has historically not been kind, or equitable, to working moms. Recent laws, such as the PUMP Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, provide some support to pregnant women and new mothers, but overall, many moms suffer a significant workplace penalty in their efforts to be a “working mom.”

For the past six years, Motherly, a parenting platform with a stated mission to create a “world in which all mothers are thriving,” has conducted a “State of Motherhood” survey.

In its 2023 survey completed earlier this year, Motherly heard from approximately 10,000 mothers. The results are mixed – some positive and some concerning – but a glaring discovery is that workplaces need to shift if they want to hire and retain mothers.

The survey showed that moms are worried – mostly about the economy and mental health.

Motherly said of its survey, “This year finds mothers increasingly stressed about finances, yet a lack of access to child care keeps many mothers out of the workforce. The key to getting mothers, who also do the majority of child care and household management, back into the workforce? Flexibility.”

The survey found that there were more mothers staying home this year than in the past one, with 25% responding they are a stay-at-home parent compared with 15% in 2022. In addition, 18% of the mothers reported changing jobs or leaving the workforce, with the top reasons being to stay at home with children (28%) and the lack of child care (15%).

To get moms back in the workforce, 64% of the respondents said they needed flexibility and 52% said they needed affordable child care. In fact, 67% of moms said they spend at least $1,000 a month on child care alone. Mothers just can’t justify paying such a high cost for child care and earning barely enough to pay for it.

Mental health concerns climbed in this year’s survey and were the top worry of mothers. More moms (about 46%) are seeking mental health services. Moms are reportedly experiencing serious mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression and postpartum depression. By way of another stressor, 1 in 10 of their children is also receiving mental health support.

Moms are also extremely worried about finances, with 72% reporting stress over finances and 71% reportedly cutting back on spending.

Moms who work also do the majority of the household and family tasks, with 58% of them reporting that they are primarily responsible for the duties of running a household and caring for children, up slightly from 2022.

Moms are also exhausted. In fact, 62% reported they get less than an hour to themselves each day.

A recent study by Lean In and McKinsey & Co. reported that female leaders are leaving the workplace at alarming rates in what’s being called “The Great Breakup.”

Employers can’t ignore this important demographic in their workforce. Women consistently experience a penalty for pregnancy, childbirth and being a working mom, and this isn’t good for employers or mothers.

Too often working moms are viewed negatively by employers, as if they aren’t committed to the job. Men who are dads rarely experience this same bias.

As employers readjust and reset after the pandemic, they can also refocus the needs of working parents overall (not just moms) and consider whether work can still get done while offering flexibility and child care benefits. Although child care costs are universal to both moms and dads, women’s careers are the ones most impacted because historically they are the lower-wage earners, and the ones to leave the workforce to attend to child care responsibilities.

Basic structural focus such as equal and fair pay, flexibility and an intentional emphasis on support for mental health and well-being of all employees could alleviate some of the issues women are experiencing in the workplace. The best way to determine how to make sure that it’s working for your working parents? Ask them. Find out what you — the employer — can do to support them.

While in many cases employers cannot support having a parent work from home while simultaneously caring for a 3-year-old, employers can consider flexible work schedules so parents can tag-team child care. The most important thing is to start the conversation with a goal toward effective changes that provide better opportunities for working moms – and all parents and caregivers.