Every International Women’s Day we celebrate the achievements of women across all aspects of life, including in the workplace. However, for working mothers, the journey can be particularly demanding. Balancing the responsibilities of motherhood with the pressures of a career presents a unique set of challenges.

Recognising the Challenges

For employers who want to make a difference to the working mothers on their staff, you first need to understand the challenges they face. The absolute best way to do this is to talk to your staff and listen to what they tell you. Given the opportunity, most parents will happily join 360 discussions on ways to relieve the pressures created by a busy work and home life. Setting up these meetings is a great first step in showing your employees that the business takes this seriously. Remember that the situation will also affect working fathers in your organisation, so be clear that these meetings are open to all parents.

Work-life balance: Finding enough time to fulfil both work and family obligations can be a constant struggle, even elusive for working mothers. Juggling work deadlines, childcare duties, household responsibilities, and personal needs can leave them feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

The guilt factor: Many working mothers experience feelings of guilt, whether they are at work feeling like they are neglecting their children, or at home feeling like they are not giving their all to their careers. This internal pressure can contribute to emotional stress and hinder their ability to enjoy both aspects of their lives fully.

Childcare concerns: Affording and finding reliable childcare can be a major hurdle for working mothers. The cost of childcare can be a significant financial burden, and finding qualified and trustworthy childcare providers can be an additional stressor.

Glass ceilings and unconscious bias: Unfortunately, even in 2024, women, particularly working mothers, can face implicit bias and discrimination in the workplace. This can hinder their career progression.

Lack of support: Working mothers may feel unsupported by employers, colleagues, and even family members. Rigid schedules, lack of flexibility and societal expectations of mothers as the primary caregivers can exacerbate existing challenges.

Mental and emotional strain: The constant juggling act of work and family can take a toll on mental and emotional well-being. Working mothers are more susceptible to stress, anxiety, and burnout, impacting their overall health and well-being.

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Fortunately, there are solutions and resources available to employers who want to help working mothers navigate these challenges.

Embracing flexible work arrangements: Many companies are offering flexible work options like remote work, compressed workweeks or flexible start and end times. These can significantly ease the burden on working mothers and allow them to better manage their responsibilities and achieve a better work-life balance.

On-site Support: Companies that provide on-site childcare facilities or offer childcare subsidies can alleviate the stress and financial burden associated with finding quality childcare. Knowing their children are well cared for close by can significantly improve a working mother’s peace of mind and focus.

Employee Resource Groups: Creating or joining ERGs specifically for working parents can provide much-needed support, networking opportunities, and a sense of community. Sharing experiences, challenges, and advice with other working parents can be incredibly empowering.

Prioritising self-care: Engaging in activities that promote relaxation and well-being is essential for working mothers and is often the thing that ends up falling by the wayside as opportunities for ‘me time’ become few and far between. Employers are in a perfect position to help re-prioritise a mother’s well-being by creating time and space for them to pursue this which could include exercise passes, meditation spaces, counselling services or mindfulness programs. Even small moments, allow mothers to recharge and be present in all aspects of their lives.

Parental Leave Policies: Parental leave policies play a vital role in promoting gender equality in the workplace. When both parents have access to equal and adequate leave, it allows them to share childcare responsibilities more equally. This not only benefits working mothers but also fathers, allowing them to build stronger bonds with their children and contribute more actively to family life. Additionally, fair parental leave policies reduce the risk of mothers facing career setbacks due to childbirth, fostering a more equitable and supportive work environment for all.

Companies Leading the Way

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen companies recognise the challenges facing working mothers and offer innovative solutions to support them. We’re not suggesting these solutions are right for every business but it’s interesting to see what is being done and maybe, find ways to adapt and make them work for your teams.

Netflix: Known for its flexible work culture, which allows employees, including mothers, to create schedules that best suit their needs. Netflix also offers unlimited paid parental leave, giving new parents the freedom to choose their return date without financial constraints.

Ikea: The Swedish furniture company provides extensive support for new parents with up to 4 months of full paid leave for all new mums, dads, adoptive parents, and foster parents, regardless of salary or employment status.

Badger: This organic skincare company takes a unique approach with its “Babies at Work Program,” allowing employees to bring their babies to work until they are six months old. The company fosters a supportive environment where colleagues can help out when needed. They also offer wellness vouchers for employees and provide healthy organic lunches.

Deloitte: The firm has continued to demonstrate its commitment to working parents through its comprehensive benefits which include generous parental leave policies, including 26 weeks of paid leave for mothers, flexible work arrangements, on-site childcare facilities and backup childcare services to assist with unexpected child-related emergencies.

Intel: Amongst its extended maternity leave policy and flexible working options, the technology company has also created a “New Parent Reintegration Program,” allowing a gradual return to full-time work with part-time hours at full-time pay.

Aviva: The insurance company offers a comprehensive maternity leave policy: 26 weeks of leave on full pay for mothers followed by enhanced pay options for returning to work part-time. They combine this with on-site childcare facilities and a variety of support programs including free counselling for working parents.

Next Steps

Working mothers contribute significantly to the workforce and their families. Recognising their challenges and offering solutions and support is not just the right thing to do, it’s also essential for creating a more equitable and inclusive workplace for everyone. By celebrating the achievements of working mothers and advocating for their well-being, we can pave the way for a future where women can thrive both personally and professionally.

How does your organisation measure up when it comes to family-friendly working? If you manage a business and you‘re looking for ways to create a high-performing workplace with family-positive policies, take a look at the employer resources provided by Working Families, The UK’s national charity for working parents and carers.