By Sophia P. Nasher
We have come a long way since 1900, when only one out of five women was employed in the U.S. workforce. Back then, it was the societal norm for women to hold more domestic roles, and having a profession outside of the home was looked down upon. The advent of the feminist movement alongside other societal factors has enabled womento progress towards gender equality. More women are getting an education andan even bigger proportion of women are entering the workforce. Today half of the workplace is comprised of women. According to the New York Times, about 60 percent of women today receive their Bachelor’s degree, outnumbering their male counterparts by roughly three million. While we have madegreat strides toward gender equality, we have failed to make structural changes in the workplace, to accommodate mothers.
Overtime, our expectations of mothers have doubled, where alongside a domestic role they are expected to have a professional one as well. We have done thiswithout implementing policies that will help them strike a healthy balance between these two roles. Current workplace policies make it increasingly difficult for single moms or low income families whoare struggling and living paycheck to paycheck to balance the two. The statistics show us that women are still lagging behind and are not up to par with their male counterparts in the workplace. Out of the total women in the workplace, 59 percent of the demographic has an income at or below eight dollars an hour. Women earn less than men in approximately 99 percent of all occupations. From a global perspective, only 13 percent of women hold head positions in parliaments. Fewer than 30 percent of women hold senior level positions in foreign policy across the government. Lastly, according to two economists, women are less happy today than their predecessors were in 1972, relative to men.
Women across the board—in the legal profession, corporate world and public sector—are stepping down from their positions because they realize they can not effectively play the role of caretaker and careerist without making sacrifices in one area or the other. They end up stepping down, not because they aren’t ambitious enough, but because most workplaces haven’t provided enough support, for example only half of companies pay their employees for maternity leave. As a result, a mother ends up leaving her company, either due to insufficient pay or maternal support, and the return on investment in training and mentoring goes down.
We can prevent the loss of great minds and assets to the workplace by making structural systems and changing our policies. While there are changes to be made in many sectors, including the public school system (the current school system and its schedule is based off a system in which stay at home moms were the norm and farming jobs were prevalent), the changes illustrated here are ones that can be made in the workplace. These numbers demonstrate the need to re-evaluate our workplace policies, because happier moms will evidently lead not only happier families but to happier companies as well. It is a spillover affect, as women have multi-faceted roles in society. Below, you will find suggestions, based on Anne Marie Slaughter’s widely received and heavily debated article, that you can read here to make the workplace more suited for both men and women.
Greater teleworking options: In one of my colleague’s articles, we see how Meredith’s telework experience can bring many benefits. Having teleworking options enables mothers to be at home and care for their children while they simultaneously do work at home. It is beneficial to move from an office centered culture to a more flexible one, and this is possible due to technological advances. Slaughter discusses how teleworking options can combine family requirements with a career.
Its quality of work not quantity of hoursthat matters: As a nation, we have become too focused on an hourly based schedule. Those who work overtime or stay after hours are viewed in a reputable light. However, increasing research shows that there are in fact diminishing returns to labor and productivity rates go down when extensive hours are put in continuously.
Getting men involved more: We still very much live in a society where, if a man places his home life above his career, he is characterized as not ambitious enough or not motivated enough. We need to change that perspective, and understand that fathers should equally be involved in their children’s lives. In Sweden, which ranks as one of the happiest countries, fathers are given sixty paid leave days for “paternity” leave.
Does your organization have policies in place to accommodate working mothers?