In her seminal work, Lean In, well-known Silicon Valley mom, Sheryl Sandberg, recounts being extremely pregnant and having to waddle-run across the entire length of a Google parking lot one morning due to a lack of “pregnancy parking.” The thought of such a policy, says Sandberg, “had never occurred to me. The other pregnant women must have suffered in silence, not wanting to ask for special treatment.”
Reading this reflection, one phrase stood out to me: “special treatment.”
As Sandberg uses it, “special” means different from what is normal or usual. And, in a world where 18.2% of working mothers in business already feel that being a parent hurts their reputation at work, female employees are understandably wary of wanting to draw increased attention to what they perceive as their “outlier” status.
But, lest we forget, “special” has an alternative definition, meaning “especially important or loved.” And moms, particularly working moms, not only fit this description, but also deserve workplace policies and respect that treat them as such. At Google, says Sandberg, what ultimately moved the needle was “having one pregnant woman at the top.” Walk a day, or even just the length of a parking lot, in a pregnant co-worker’s shoes, and the workplace perks and support she both needs and deserves, will quickly become evident. Instead of asking working moms to champion their own cause, we should all be champions of our colleagues, managers, and network of working parents.
Word on the Street
In honor of Mother’s Day this year, HubSpot recently conducted a survey to extract which workplace benefits are most desired by working moms. The results are in, and women reported that the top workplace perks all moms are longing for are as follows:
The ability to work from home While 81.8% of those working mothers surveyed said that working from home is a convenience, 52.7% expressed that they are only rarely or sometimes able to do so. Working from home can alleviate the need for additional child care, but can also eliminate commuting, which mothers report significantly limits the amount of quality time they are able to spend with their kids.
Some companies, including Dell, IBM, and SAP, are already leading the charge when it comes to working from home. For instance, SAP allows 30% of its salesforce to telecommute full time. Even if companies aren’t willing or able to offer full time telecommuting positions, however, allowing working mothers the freedom and flexibility to work from home even one or two days a week can significantly improve work-life balance.
Child care assistance When working mothers were asked what one change in their work life would simplify their life overall, an overwhelming majority of survey respondents pointed to increased child care assistance, particularly, onsite daycare. The outdoor apparel company, Patagonia, staffs an onsite child-care center and even supplies company buses to ferry kids from school to Patagonia’s headquarters in the afternoons. This is not to be outdone by tech giant, Google’s four daycare centers near its Mountain View location.
Of course, not all companies have the infrastructure to support onsite care, but all companies could do their part to provide working mothers with subsidized, backup care. PWC and HubSpot offer such assistance. Just this past week, a mom at HubSpot posted internally that the backup childcare HubSpot provides to its employees, courtesey of care.com, allowed her to maintain her day's busy schedule and commitments despite the fact that her son was dealing with a case of the dreaded hand, foot, and mouth disease.
Flexible hours According to Dr. Gary Chapman, there are 5 languages of love, one of which is quality time. Indeed, 90.9% of working mothers in business reported that spending quality time attending their children’s school or extracurricular events was extremely important to them; yet 34.6% said that they are only able to attend infrequently or sometimes, but not enough.
Exchanging a strict 9-5 policy or rigid “desk-time” requirements for flexible work hours, like General Mills does, can significantly reduce “mom guilt,” or as one mom puts it, the “fear of not doing enough or not being present (both literally and figuratively) at all times.”
Private breastfeeding rooms Federal law mandates that companies provide nursing mothers a place and adequate break time to express breast milk. However, there is a big difference between merely providing a space and providing a safe, welcoming space that mothers actually want to use. Let’s face it; while exciting and wonderful, pregnancy and the months that follow come with a fair amount of discomfort.
Anything organizations can do to make the breastfeeding process as easy and unintrusive to their lives as possible should be a priority. For instance, HubSpot supports maternal privacy by providing comfortable, locked lactation rooms that can only be accessed by mothers with a specified code, thus alleviating the stress that an unexpected co-worker may walk in at any moment. But, HubSpot is certainly not alone in this effort. According to a recent article, Google, Facebook, Discovery Channel, and Marriott International top the list of companies with the best lactation rooms that provide women with remarkable comfort and privacy.
Let Your Office Be The Village
Being a working mom can be exhausting, not only literally, as these women run at full speed to GSD in the office and at home, but also emotionally. Workplace perks can be essential to helping simplify logistics for working moms, but, sometimes, what is even more valuable is the emotional support of co-workers and office management.
Data reveals that working mothers in business are looking for a way to connect with other moms that “get it.” HubSpot has over 100 employees who are parents with over 250 children between them. Across the company, thirteen women are preparing for maternity leave. Together, that’s a lot of collective knowledge and advice. HubSpot employees, wanting to leverage this knowledge, spearheaded the effort to create #moms and #parents channels in the company’s Slack team for parents to share learnings and encouragements.
Nevertheless, virtual support is merely one option. Many companies offer in-person meetups for working moms to network, and leaders in this space, including PWC, have gone as far as to organize programs for parents taking a leave of absence to care for children full-time. These programs help mothers stay connected with former colleagues and attend events and trainings that keep them up-to-date and informed for if, and when, they decide to rejoin the workforce. It’s initiatives of this nature that change the conversation around motherhood and ensure that it never feels like an isolating experience for female employees.
Know No Bounds
Working moms in business often spend time defending themselves, attempting to prove that being a mother does not affect their productivity or company commitment. When asked directly, however, almost 50% of working mothers in this field proudly proclaim that being a mother absolutely improves their skills at work. “Navigating managing different personalities is easier after raising three decidedly different kids with different strengths, weaknesses, and special needs,” said one mom surveyed. “Your most important skill as a working parent is prioritizing and making trade-offs. That’s one of the most important skills in business as well,” said another. We think so too. As the old saying goes, a mother’s love knows no bounds. This Mother’s Day and onward, let’s show the same level of boundless love and inclusivity for working mothers.
Originally published May 6, 2016 1:46:08 PM, updated May 07 2016