Supporting women and mothers in the workplace

Women, especially those with children, still face several barriers to workplace success. Employers need to face these barriers together to gain from the talent and experience of women in the workforce. Photo: Shutterstock.

Our nation has come a long way in creating equality for women in the social and political sphere and most prominently, in the workforce. Women are now found in virtually every American industry and dominate many fields, including healthcare and education. Women are also on track to dominate universities, as more women will graduate college with four-year degrees than men in 2022. 

However, women (especially those with children) still face several barriers to workplace success, both culturally and within the smaller circles of their industry. To gain from the talent and experience of women in the workforce, employers need to face these barriers together to reduce them in their environments. 

Problems Women and Mothers Face in the Workforce 

At the individual level, no two women will face the exact same issues in the workplace, nor will their challenges be wholly isolated from men’s experiences. However, women face many common career development issues that employers should understand and address to bridge the gap between men’s and women’s success in the workforce. 

The Motherhood Penalty at Work

While disparities in wage and career opportunities are felt for all women, studies show that it is mothers who take the biggest hit as opposed to men and women without children. This is because mothers often have to take significant time off work during pregnancy and infancy, which can hurt short-term earnings and delay long-term career growth.

Mothers are also more likely to spend more of their time devoted to childcare than fathers, which can result in more time spent away from work. This hurts a mother’s chance at promotions later on, which keeps her salary and career growth stagnant, whereas men and women without children do not feel these effects. 

Discrimination and Sexual Harassment

Research done by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2017 shows that of the 10,000 formal complaints registered that year, 16.5 percent were filed by men as opposed to 83 percent that women filed. Not only is sexual harassment a detrimental problem to workforce culture and productivity, but it can cause women to leave their jobs, potentially hurting their careers due to no fault of their own.

Women’s Opportunity and Choice in the Workplace

Culture and social networks for women and men can also affect women’s advancement in specific careers, as can differences in interest common between women and men that result in different long-term earnings. Unfortunately, many career fields dominated by women have lower average incomes, even when they require equal skill or educational levels, as compared to industries dominated by men. For example, those who complete cosmetology trade school earn approximately $10,000 less per year than those who complete HVAC technician training, despite nearly identical required training hours.

Women in male-dominated fields can also feel unsupported because their work culture is less inclusive than their male counterparts. Whether due to social norms, job benefits, or company values, women in these fields can struggle to compete with their male colleagues even when they have the same or higher skill level. 

Solutions To Support Your Women Colleagues

To expand your talent pool, offering support for women and mothers in ways that feel inclusive to them is essential. 

Talk to your female employees.

Many employers focus on what they think will make their women employees feel more supported but don’t ask. Instead, talk to the women in your workplace to better understand their challenges within your company or industry. This open dialogue will not only create better employee retention but will help you recruit other women to your company in creating a more inclusive workplace led by women. 

Focus on job quality

For many women, job quality is more important than salary when determining the course of their careers. Job quality markers include access to benefits, predictable scheduling with room for flexibility, and opportunities for advancement within the company and the industry. 

Emphasize mental health care to avoid burnout

Cambridge University studies show that women are more likely to experience depression and anxiety mood disorders than men, who are more likely to have substance abuse and antisocial disorders. This can be exacerbated if women are expected to take their jobs home without room for work-life balance. To bring the best out of your women employees, ensure they can cultivate meaning outside work while still finding a sense of purpose within their careers. 

Elevate women’s role models and mentors

Many women have trouble finding other women role models, whether because they are in a male-dominated industry or because well-known women role models are hard to come by. The star women leaders in your company should be encouraged to reach out and support other women in the company, showing that a thriving career in your industry as a woman is possible. 

Want to learn more? Check out our workforce development programs here.