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Breaking the bias against working mothers

  • Publish Date: Posted about 1 month ago

Working mothers have always faced barriers–and the pandemic has only made it worse. 29% of working mothers cut their working hours during the pandemic, while 42% considered quitting their profession altogether, according to a survey by Visier.

Yet the pandemic also had positive impacts, humanising the work environment and teaching long-overdue lessons about work-life balance. The rise of remote work has enabled more primary caregivers to balance work and parenting instead of having to choose between them.

It’s a much-needed change for the engineering sector, which often loses scarce female talent when working mothers feel forced to choose between working and being a mother.

But why is this still such an issue in 2022? Why is “working mother” still an oxymoron and “working father” a tautology? The problem is much bigger than the workplace, as recent US stats revealed:

● 61% of mothers miss work when their children are ill

● Just 25% share equal responsibility with a partner

● 7% say the other parent has full responsibility

● 7% have other arrangements in place

Sadly, you as an employer can’t call your employee’s husband and tell him to stop dumping disproportionate responsibility for childcare on her. Nor can you call his employer and tell them to cut working fathers more slack. You have to work with what you’ve got.

In engineering, many women leave at mid-senior level, because increased responsibility at work often coincides with parenthood and increased responsibility at home. Some will take several years out to raise children and then come back, perhaps taking on a different role. Offering more support and flexibility will not only reduce the number of women who need to leave, it will also increase the number of women who can come back to their career and continue to grow.

Common challenges faced by working mothers

● The gender pay gap

● Losing out on promotion

● Lack of flexibility and remote working

● Burnout

● Insufficient childcare

● Identity crisis: being seen as working mothers rather than professional leaders

The gender pay gap

The gender pay gap remains a serious issue at the senior leadership level, not only in engineering but across all industries: the average female salary is just 80% of the average male salary. Don’t wait for your female engineers to ask for a raise, pay them the same as the men who do the same job. Be transparent about your internal pay structures and have regular performance views with all your employees.

Career progression

A McKinsey study found working mothers actually have higher levels of ambition at work than the average woman. 75% of mothers are keen to be promoted, versus 71% of all women. 58% want to become managers, versus 54% of all women. Assume your working mothers have ambitions, and give them the support and flexibility they need to realise them.

Flexibility and remote working

The same McKinsey study found working mothers are more likely to want remote options. Beyond simply providing that flexibility, it’s important to create a culture that allows working parents to thrive, and to have leadership role models and allies to promote that.

Avoiding burnout and identity crisis

Working mothers are highly vulnerable to burnout and may not recognise the signs because of cultural assumptions that being constantly stressed and exhausted is just part of motherhood. Make sure you provide full mental health support and promote a good work-life balance not only for working mothers but for all employees.

At the same time, avoid putting too much emphasis on women being “working mothers” instead of leaders or influential figures. Part of breaking the bias around working mothers is promoting the understanding that they have their own identity at work independent of their role as mothers.

While the engineering sector still has a long way to go in achieving equity for working mothers, there are encouraging signs of progress, and we can hope to see many more women in leadership roles within the next ten years.