The U.S. is losing some of its best talent—young, highly-educated women—in disproportionate numbers. In fact, a research paper by Vanderbilt professor Joni Hersch found that working mothers with bachelor’s degrees from elite universities are 20 percent less likely to work than those in this demographic without children.
Additionally, this percentage escalates as the level of education increases.
But really, is anyone surprised by this statistic? I’m certainly not. As a working mom, I know exactly why educated women are dropping out of the workforce: it is extremely hard to successfully balance a career and a family. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. A recent Pew Research Center study found 56 percent of working moms said it was very difficult or somewhat difficult to balance work and family life responsibilities. (Hats off to the remaining 44 percent who don’t find this difficult!)
So, what can companies do to keep women with children in the workforce?
First, make sure you're giving women in your workplace a chance to voice concerns and ideas. An employee engagement survey is one of the best ways to show employees you’re listening, get an accurate read on overall engagement, and address the needs and wants of your employees. It’s also the perfect place to ask targeted questions to specific demographic groups, such as working mothers.
Below are five employee engagement survey questions you should be asking working mothers within your organization.
Working mothers need flexibility and encouragement. They need to know they have the flexibility to care for their families and get their job done. How this looks depends on the size and culture of your organization. If you want to dig deeper, ask an open-ended question about how your organization could better support the lifestyle of your employees.
Employees should feel comfortable asking off for family emergencies or important life events. Make sure your employees are clear on your organization’s leave and PTO policies. Make sure they know it’s okay to ask for time away, and feel it’s socially acceptable to do so.
Life and work aren’t separate, and they never will be. I love what Jason Lauritsen said in this post about work-life balance:
“Work is part of who we are and what we do. We spend more time working than we do any other activity in our life except sleeping. So to suggest that work is separate from life is ridiculous.”
However, just because they aren’t separate doesn’t mean managers can’t help employees feel balanced. Managers need to understand that life happens. Kids will get sick. Basements will flood. Snow days will happen. Check in with your employees regularly. Ask how they're doing—personally and professionally—and offer to help where you can.
The pay gap that exists between men and women has been well documented, and you can find a plethora of articles and blogs on the topic. The point is, it exists.
Our most recent Employee Engagement Trends Report found that fair pay was one of the highest levels of uncertainty for women. Women were 4 percent less confident they were paid fairly compared to men. And since higher levels of uncertainty and lower levels of engagement go hand in hand, we can conclude this is a likely cause for women's lower level of engagement. (Our research found almost 71 percent of men were engaged, compared to just fewer than 68 percent of women.)
One of the most – if not the most – important benefits for working mothers is flexibility in the workplace. Forty percent of working mothers say they constantly feel rushed (read: stressed). There are kids’ activities, meal responsibilities, school events, and more. Working mothers want to balance work, life, and family, and it’s next to impossible without flexibility. Be cognizant of this, and be ready to work around it.
Chances are your mothers are feeling stressed, questioning the quality of their parenting, and trying their hardest to be successful at two full-time roles. Thank them for their efforts inside and outside of work. Or, do what my boss did and treat working mothers to a happy hour. (Hey, why not!). Whatever you do, let them know you appreciate their dedication to your organization and their families.