Article: IWD: How HR can genuinely help working mothers in 2024? Leaders lay out key considerations

Culture

IWD: How HR can genuinely help working mothers in 2024? Leaders lay out key considerations

Our panellists, echoing the significance of creating a psychologically safe space for pregnant professionals, highlighted the necessity for a culture that fosters inclusivity and empathy, ensuring individuals feel truly appreciated and supported.
IWD: How HR can genuinely help working mothers in 2024? Leaders lay out key considerations

A survey conducted by Indeed revealed that nearly three-quarters of mothers who were re-entering the workforce after being stay-at-home moms faced significant biases. This serves as just one example of the challenges mothers or expectant mothers may encounter in the workplace. It also underscores the persistence of the prove-it bias, which remains a constant issue for women despite societal advancements.

Furthermore, layoffs have become a pressing concern in today's workplace environment. While employees across various industries are affected, the situation is particularly dire for mothers or expectant mothers. For instance, an employee who returned from parental leave at a multinational corporation found themselves among 40 others who were laid off. Apart from the immediate business impact, such actions hinder the development of future generations, directly impacting our society.

At People Matters, we are committed to addressing these challenges and exploring potential solutions. This International Women’s Day, during our Big Questions session, we initiated discussions on the prove-it bias with esteemed leaders from around the world, including Vani Seshadri, Inclusion & Diversity Lead at Accenture Growth Markets (AAPAC + LATAM), Nimisha Rana Pathak, CHRO at Alvarez & Marsal India, and Yenita Oktora, Chief Human Resource Officer at L'Oréal.

These leaders highlighted how the prove-it bias remains a pervasive issue in contemporary workplace dynamics, particularly impacting pregnant women and mothers. However, there is a growing recognition of this systemic challenge, leading to discussions and initiatives aimed at recognising, supporting, and empowering future mothers in the workplace.

Recognition and support for future mothers

The desire for women to have a genuine choice between working and staying at home without facing societal stigma is a fundamental aspiration. Achieving this requires an economy that provides a liveable wage, eliminating the necessity for both parents to work, and employers who consistently offer flexible working hours. It involves transforming societal perceptions to respect and appreciate the valuable contributions of women who choose to stay at home with their children, recognising that their impact on society goes beyond immediate financial assessments. 

Amid these considerations, organisations are actively engaged in discussions surrounding the recognition of pregnancy and motherhood as significant life events. The prevailing narrative seeks to shift the perspective from viewing these aspects as limitations to understanding them as opportunities for growth and development. 

According to the Inclusion & Diversity Lead at Accenture Growth Markets (AAPAC + LATAM), supporting future mothers effectively demands comprehensive strategies covering various facets of professional and personal development. “This includes offering support during pregnancy, facilitating a seamless return to work after childbirth, and creating pathways for career advancement. It reflects a commitment to fostering an inclusive and supportive environment for women navigating the challenges of balancing work and family responsibilities,” she stressed. 

Further support for pregnant professionals

In a significant move, Pennsylvania expanded access to doula care in February by incorporating support professionals into its Medicaid program. Doulas, non-clinical experts providing emotional, physical, and educational support during and after pregnancy, have been shown to enhance maternal and infant outcomes, particularly during childbirth and the postpartum period. 

Our panellists, echoing the importance of a psychologically safe environment for pregnant professionals, emphasised the need for a culture that promotes inclusivity and understanding, where individuals feel genuinely valued and supported. Key to this effort is the implementation of flexible work schedules, accommodation of specific needs during pregnancy and post-childbirth, and the establishment of robust mentorship programs. 

The CHRO at Alvarez & Marsal India highlighted the pivotal role of mentorship during this period, emphasising its significance in providing guidance, support, and encouragement as pregnant professionals navigate the complexities of achieving a harmonious work-life balance. “This collective approach aims to create workplaces that prioritise the well-being of pregnant individuals, acknowledging the multifaceted nature of their needs and fostering a supportive culture,” she said. 

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Impact of societal norms

The LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2021 shed light on the challenges faced by working mothers in the Asia Pacific, revealing that nearly five in 10 struggle to balance remote work with their maternal responsibilities. Additionally, 42% of working mothers feel that domestic duties hinder their career progression, underscoring the need for supportive workplace policies. 

Societal norms, particularly prevalent in the Asia Pacific, heavily influence the treatment of pregnant women and mothers in professional settings. Cultural expectations shape perceptions, often leading to biases and stereotypes. 

In response, organisations must proactively create inclusive environments, accommodating diverse cultural backgrounds. The Chief Human Resource Officer at L'Oréal, highlighted the importance of addressing biases and stereotypes. 

“By fostering understanding and providing tailored support, organisations can cultivate environments where all individuals, including working mothers, feel respected and valued. This approach not only promotes inclusivity but also enhances employee well-being and productivity,” she suggested. 

Challenges faced by returning mothers

The same LinkedIn report also unveiled concerning statistics, with 22% of working women reporting fewer opportunities for career advancement and 14% citing lower salaries compared to their male counterparts. Despite this, 51% of Filipino workers perceive the gender gap as more manageable, showing improvement over recent years. 

However, there remains a significant 31% who doubt the achievability of gender equality. Our panellists reiterated the challenges faced by returning mothers upon re-entering the workforce post-childbirth. From biases and stereotypes to the struggle of balancing work and family responsibilities, these obstacles are significant. 

To effectively address these challenges, organisations must adopt supportive policies and practices. Vani Seshadri emphasised the importance of offering flexible work arrangements, access to childcare facilities, parental leave options, and robust mentorship programs. “By establishing such a supportive ecosystem, organisations can facilitate the seamless reintegration of returning mothers into the workforce, promoting gender equality and diversity,” she stressed. 

Flexibility and inclusive culture

Providing flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options or adjustable schedules, enables women to balance their professional responsibilities with personal commitments like childcare or caregiving. This flexibility empowers women to thrive in their careers while meeting the demands of their personal lives, fostering a healthier work-life balance. 

Moreover, inclusivity plays a pivotal role in creating a supportive environment where women feel valued, respected, and understood. By acknowledging and accommodating the diverse needs of women, organisations can cultivate a culture of inclusivity that promotes their professional growth and well-being. Inclusive practices encompass providing access to resources, support networks, and mentorship opportunities tailored to women's specific challenges and aspirations. 

Ultimately, by prioritising flexibility and inclusivity, organisations can empower women to excel in their careers, contributing to a more equitable and thriving workplace for all. “Flexibility allows individuals to adapt to changing circumstances, while an inclusive culture fosters an environment of support and empowerment. By prioritising these elements, organisations can create environments where women feel empowered to thrive both personally and professionally,” said Nimisha Rana Pathak. 

Yenita Oktora emphasised a significant aspect of fostering inclusivity involves sensitising fathers to the challenges faced by mothers during the early stages of parenthood. Policy changes, such as extending paternity leave, serve as effective means of encouraging active participation in caregiving responsibilities. 

“Additionally, educational initiatives and awareness campaigns can help fathers better understand the physical and emotional toll of childbirth and childcare. By promoting shared responsibilities within families, organisations can foster a culture of inclusivity and support,” she said. 

To learn more from leaders about some of the burning questions in today’s world of work, stay tuned to People Matters' Big Question series on LinkedIn

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Topics: Culture, #HRCommunity, #BigQuestions, #InternationalWomensDay, #HRTech

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