No business can thrive without the mojo of working mothers. Yet, for too many women who try to juggle family and a full-time job, traditional employment seems rigged as an either/or proposition—you are committed either to your career or your kids, but not both.
To help address this disconnection, the Working Mother Research Institute commissioned What Moms Choose: The Working Mother Report, a new survey of 3,781 women that investigates factors shaping women’s work life decisions. We looked at women’s family histories, sources of stress and schedules, and we asked them to rank the workplace benefits they consider crucial.
What we found was striking and often surprising. For instance, though the “opt-out” phenomenon of educated women leaving the workforce has received lots of attention, our research suggests that many career-oriented women aren’t necessarily satisfied once they’re home full-time with junior. Eighteen percent of the stay-at-home moms in our survey consider themselves career-oriented and of those, 55 percent say they would prefer to be working now. These women cite a host of reasons they left their jobs: the need to attend to children, cost of child care, lack of flexibility in start and stop times, lack of meaningful part-time roles and having to work more than 40 hours per week, among others.
Moms who were working when they filled out the survey feel good about modeling for their children that women can succeed professionally. But they are worried about things that are left undone on the home front. The house isn’t clean, they fear, and they feel guilty about not spending enough time on their own health. (Memo to companies considering wellness initiatives: 48 percent of working mothers and 42 percent of at-home moms cite not taking care of themselves as a major source of guilt.) Fascinatingly, working mothers say they feel more judged about messy homes and not taking care of themselves than they do about the amount of time they spend with the kids.
What matters most to moms in the work environment? Stay-at-home and working mothers together cite basic accommodations such as flexibility and the ability to use paid sick leave when a child is ill. These are hands-down winners, cited by 57 and 51 percent of women, respectively, when asked to rank the top three benefits. (For comparison, only 23 percent of women count paid maternity leave as essential.) But the company that can provide these basics and more has a significant recruiting edge. Sixty-three percent of at-home moms say they will seek out an employer with family friendly policies when they return to the workplace.
“The purpose of pulling together the knowledge from this research is so that each one of us in the business world can take concrete and effective action,” says Billie Williamson, Americas Inclusiveness Officer of Ernst & Young, which sponsored What Moms Choose. “Use these data to make the case for better engaging working mothers in their careers. Bring to your leaders the voices of the women who took time to share their concerns and aspirations with us. Tune your ears to hear the solutions that your own people will bring forward to both manage their personal lives and support your business success.”
This article was featured in the November 2011 issue of Working Mother Research Institute’s email newsletter, Working Mother Research Institute Essentials. To read additional stories from that issue, see the related content section above. To subscribe to Working Mother Research Institute Essentials, register on the newsletter page of this website.