I conducted my doctoral dissertation research on stay-at-home mothers' experiences of career exit, stay-at-home motherhood, and career reentry. In terms of experiences of career exit, my results indicated that, as a group, the mothers I studied had similar experiences, but there was also a uniqueness of experience at the individual level among the 10 women I studied. Each woman had her own experience and circumstance that led to her career exit. The literature on this topic indicates and my research also suggests that mothers who left their career for stay-at-home motherhood have similar obstacles that lead to career exit, which can be described as more of a push-out than a free choice. The good news is that there are ways that organizations can better retain their working mothers with the help of improved structures and policies at the governmental level.
8 Ways To Retain and Support Working Mothers:
1) Companies Must Change Family Leave Policies
In the U.S., one way to prevent mothers from experiencing a push out is for company family leave policies to change so that both parents can receive equal lengths of family leave time. This way both parents can share in the newborn childcare duties. They could either take leave at the same time or at separate times and receive equal leave lengths. This way, parents managing a newborn and a career have the potential to experience less stress and fewer career penalties.
2) Structural Changes at the Governmental Policy Level
For there to be more egalitarian family leave policies on a wider scale in U.S. workplaces, structural changes at the governmental policy level must progress to truly allow women the chance to make the free choice to leave their careers for stay-at-home motherhood and to decrease the experience of career penalization for leaving and going back to work later. For example, research showed that when U.S. mothers were compared with German and Swedish mothers, American mothers had the least amount of family leave, yet experienced the highest levels of career penalization in the form of a lack of advancement once they became working mothers . In fact, according to a United Nations survey, the U.S. is one of five out of 152 countries that does not have a federal policy requiring paid maternity leave. Even though there are millions of women who work in the US, just one third of those women work for businesses with maternity leave policies.
3) Government and Workplaces that Promote Egalitarian Partnerships
In the U.S. there is a trend toward more progressive arrangements for families to manage work and childcare, such as the increase in stay-at-home fathers. But, a large-scale societal trend toward a government and workplaces that promote egalitarian partnerships is not currently happening. If it were, U.S. women would not experience the career penalties that they do (e.g. unequal pay, lack of career advancement). This is another reason change needs to occur at the highest level in the form of federal structures that support family leave policies in an egalitarian manner.
4) Organizations Must Examine Their Deeply Embedded Assumptions
Greater equality in the workplace will not occur unless organizations examine their deeply embedded assumptions about gender, work, and success. Most organizations manage flexible work arrangements on an individual basis and if employees takes advantage of this, they are often stigmatized. For example, if a working mother is granted permission to work from home a couple days per week, she might be stigmatized and stereotyped as a working mother who does not put in the same amount of working hours as her peers at work. If flexibility at work can be thought of systematically and collectively instead of individually, then the stigma can be lessened. Furthermore, the ideal worker is a masculine concept, which connects time at work with productivity and continuous availability. In order for there to really be gender equality at work in policies and procedures, this notion needs to be challenged. Women continue to be disadvantaged because the underlying assumptions that form the practices and policies of organizations and institutions favor men and their life experiences.
5) Work Environments That Promote Flexibility and Predictable Time Off
It is important to create work environments that promote flexibility and predictable time off. This is an egalitarian way to look at the workplace where both men and women are given equal opportunity for flexibility and it is not just granted on the basis of being a female employee who is also a mother. For example, research on planned time off was conducted at Boston Consulting Group, a workplace where consultants work long hours in a fast paced environment. The researchers found that even with planned and uninterrupted time off, the consultants succeeded at meeting the high workplace standards. In fact, their work benefited from the planned time off. The participants reported feeling refreshed and re-energized after their planned night off work. The researchers discovered that open communication between team members increased, learning and development increased, and better products were delivered to the clients. This provides further support that promoting egalitarianism in the workplace has many benefits not only for the individual employees, but also for organizations.
Partially adapted from: Partridge, A.M. (2015). From career women to stay-at-home mother and back again: Understanding the choices mothers make. Retrieved from ProQuest Databases.