Almost half of working mothers voluntarily leave the workforce at some point in their career. For too long, it’s been believed that women are leaving because they want to focus on their families.
That’s simply not the case.
Women are leaving their jobs at the same rate as men. Not any more and not any less. What’s more, 80% of them are looking for a new job. On top of that, entrepreneurship is becoming the option of choice for so many women. In the US, 40% of new businesses are started by women and between 2015 and 2016, women’s entrepreneurship increased by 10% across 51 countries, compared to 5% for men.
That’s a lot of statistics, but sometimes we need numbers to paint a clearer picture of what is really happening.
So, if women aren’t leaving their jobs and careers for their families, why are they leaving?
That’s not an easy question to answer. It involves consideration of a number of factors that continue to drive the gender gap at work, at home and in society.
For simplicity sake, I’ll focus on one: organizations aren’t supporting working mothers to reach their full potential.
Yes, progressive, competitive organizations have been hard at work creating more family-friendly workplaces for well over a decade or more. These policies have provided longer leaves for working parents and encouraged greater flexibility to those who need it. Many companies have also introduced programs to recruit, mentor and promote women, many of which are mothers.
As a result, these companies report improved diversity metrics. But, they fall short on real outcomes. According to a recent Deloitte study, truly inclusive workplaces support the growth and development of their employees at an individual level.
For working mothers, this requires developing key professional skills within the context of their new dual role as working mothers. By building these skills women will be better positioned to take on challenging work that contributes to her team and readies her to take on more advanced positions.
Here are three key skills:
There is much effort being put into unconscious bias training. It remains a valuable route to help companies and their leaders spot the biases that may be clouding their business and talent decisions.
It’s not enough to know that we are biased. We have to do something about it. That’s not always easy to do since unconscious biases are, well, hidden from our conscious. That’s why it’s equally important to train those on the receiving end with the tools and strategies to interrupt bias as it is happening, or better still, before it can take place.
For example, managers may be less likely to assume the mother on their team is less committed to her career if she already planted the messages that she remains committed to growing her career.
Negotiating and influencing skills
Some have pointed to the gender gaps in wage and promotions as a result of women’s poor negotiating skills. If that was the case, then women wouldn’t be penalized as much as they are when they do negotiate.
The rules for negotiating differ for women and possibly more for mothers. It requires a focus on the collective, and finding ways to influence change rather than demand it. These skills are essential as women learn to manage the dual demands of working and parenthood.
Sheryl Sandberg advises women not to build personal or professional brands. I’m not so sure. Yes, I agree that we aren’t Crest or Perrier or any other product that is packaged with a logo. But, if we use a more modern definition of the term, a “brand” is, at its essence, a reputation or promise a product, service or company can provide. In the same vein, then, a professional brand is an individual’s reputation or promise as it relates to their work.
For women, their reputation – no matter how solid – comes into question once she becomes a mother. As a result, it is ever more essential for working mothers to have the time to develop a refreshed brand that builds on their previous body of work, and can be used to market their skills and experience to advance their careers.
With the war on female talent hitting a fever pitch, it’s critical for companies to support and develop their working mothers. This way they can ramp back up to their former performance and begin preparing for future promotions.
If your company has yet to offer these skill building opportunities, take it upon yourself to build these skills so you can continue growing your career as a working mother.
Are there any other essential skills that working mothers need to succeed at work? Let me know in the comments below.