Balancing your professional career with the joys and challenges of motherhood is a huge undertaking that many women face. Although we’ve seen a lot of progress when it comes to women’s opportunities and rights, there is still a huge amount of discrimination and lack of support we experience today.
We recognize and understand that maternity looks different for every single mother, and we can only scratch the surface of this incredibly vast, complex topic. Our goal here is to shed light on some of the struggles many parents face right now, explore the ways we can experience real change and progress, and share some tips to help empower mothers in the workplace and make sure they don’t feel alone 💗
😣Our worries of maternity: the discrimination of mothers and disparity of parental leave.
Over a century ago now, the International Labor Organization (ILO) set a minimum standard for a 12-week paid maternity leave, which was later extended to 14 weeks. Even today, only 62% of countries worldwide now provide women with at least 14 weeks of paid leave, showing how we cannot even fulfill basic standards set over 100 years ago! 🤯There is still a huge disparity between countries and their maternity standards worldwide.
For example, while there are some countries like Estonia that offer up to 84 weeks of maternity leave at full pay, there are countries like the USA where there is still no standard for paid maternity leave. In 2022, only 27% of all US workers had access to paid parental leave 😱
On top of that, we also have to consider maternity leave post-pandemic. Organizations that provide paid maternity leave decreased from 53% in 2020 to 35% in 2022. Just how are mothers and mothers-to-be meant to cope? 🤷♀️
These statistics today are a direct reflection of why we’re still having to fight for gender equality. And it’s clear that the impetus for change should be directed toward the public organizations in order to achieve our fundamental rights.
🏛️Public side: what do we need from public organizations?
Public organizations play a pivotal role in transforming the labor market, contributing to a more inclusive and supportive professional environment, especially for women. Here are just a few of the areas that they could and should improve:
👉Parental leave duration: Despite ILO’s century-old recommendation for a 14-week paid maternity leave, little progress has been made globally. The WHO’s call for six months of exclusive breastfeeding highlights just how illogical the current leave duration is, urging nations to reevaluate and provide substantial and supportive leave periods.
👉Paid parental leave equality: Public organizations can help break gender stereotypes by ensuring equal paid parental leave for all genders. We already see this in countries like Spain and Norway, but lacking in others such as the USA and India.
👉Financial support: Public organizations need to recognize the financial implications of parental policies and offer strategic support to private companies so that they can offer sustainable and equitable leave options for their employees.
👉Childcare facilities: To ease the challenges for working parents, public organizations should provide on-site, quality childcare facilities or partner with providers to create a supportive environment that makes childcare much more accessible to working parents.
👉Education and awareness: Public organizations lead the way in creating awareness about maternity policies, parental rights, and anti-discrimination measures. The more they spread the word and establish legal standards, the sooner parents can receive the support they need.
💼Company side: what do we need from companies?
Although a transformative change may come from a more public level, it’s up to the companies themselves to eradicate discrimination in the workplace, empower their employees, and offer the support they need during their maternity. Here are just a few elements we think are crucial for companies to offer:
👉Having an inclusive & diverse workplace: Having workplace quotas to hire more women isn’t just a matter of justice, it’s actually a smart, strategic move for companies to foster more growth and have a competitive advantage – and it’s why we partner with companies to do just that!
👉Providing equal opportunities: There should be ZERO discrimination due to maternity status. Career growth, promotions, and training shouldn’t be dependent on whether someone is a parent or parent-to-be.
👉Fostering a supportive culture: Creating a supportive environment that encourages open communication, understanding, and flexibility helps employees feel valued and supported during their maternity journey. Read this article on a woman’s positive maternity experience with her tech company to see what a progressive, supportive company culture should look like!
👉Offering return-to-work programs: Return-to-work programs help to facilitate a smooth transition post-maternity leave and often include phased return schedules, mentorship opportunities, and support networks to take the pressure and stress off of getting back into the swing of things.
👉Flexible work arrangements: Offering remote (or hybrid) work options and flexible hours can help parents better manage their work and family commitments and often result in more productive employees.
Remember, it’s a company’s responsibility to be super upfront and transparent about what maternity-related benefits and support they offer their employees. If they’re not, it’s probably not a good sign.
🤰Your side: tips to help juggle work and maternity
We want to make it super clear that it shouldn’t be your job to find the support you need during your maternity journey – it should already be in place. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that we’re just not at that stage yet.
However, if you are looking for some ways to help make the balance between work and maternity easier, here are our top tips:
👉Explore your company’s culture: You can use the company section above as a checklist to measure how “modern” or “progressive” your company’s culture is. Are they willing to offer support both before, during and after pregnancy? Are they willing to provide you with the option of more responsibility during maternity? Do you feel heard and empowered?
👉Don’t be afraid to ask for help: Having a solid support network can be your saving grace – and there’s nothing wrong with asking for extra support. Companies may offer Employee Resource Groups (ERG) or Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that provide emotional support and helpful resources. But, more importantly, make sure you have a personal support network made up of family and friends.
👉Find communities you can be a part of: There are so many communities, both online and in-person, specifically to help mothers all the way from pre-natal to post. You can network with other mothers, share your experiences, and learn from one another.
👉 Forget about perfection: The last thing you should do is be hard on yourself. You can’t hold yourself to the same standard as before because your whole life has changed! Stick to a “better done than perfect” approach that focuses on progress and adaptation, and avoid any sort of comparison or guilt. Trust us, you’re doing really, really great 💗
Embracing motherhood while pursuing a fulfilling career is a journey unique to each woman. However, it’s clear that many of our unique struggles all boil down to the same issues caused by a lack of standards, practices, and compassion that we collectively experience.
By advocating for change in workplace policies and leveraging available support, we can create a more inclusive and empowering environment for mothers in the workforce 🦸♀️ We can take the unnecessary burden off mothers to find the support they need and instead provide a better framework that facilitates a better work-life balance, career advancement opportunities, and overall well-being 💞