Open and flexible office cultures are extremely important for working moms, but achieving that atmosphere is much easier said than done. Creating an environment in which working moms can flourish requires some thought, work and lots of candid conversation. The end results are well worth it.
Here are six ways that organizations can change company culture and policy to empower working moms in the office, according to Autumn Manning, co-founder and brand evangelist at Kazoo.
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Celebrate working moms’ strengths
One of the most important aspects is building an inclusive culture that identifies and celebrates the strengths of each unique employee. Working moms have extremely valuable and particular sets of skills. In the 2018 Bright Horizons’ Modern Family Index (MFI), 89% of workers surveyed agreed that working moms in leadership roles bring out the best in employees. In addition, 65% of people said they believe moms are better listeners than other employees.
One way that organizations can help working moms is by reframing their parental status as an absolute strength, instead of weakness or inconvenience. Manning lists intense empathy, superb listening skills, and the ability to multitask among the many strengths that moms bring to the table.
By helping moms realize that their “mom skills” are actually extremely important leadership skills, companies can help working moms come back to the workforce with confidence and excitement.
Help subside the fears of not being promoted
In the 2018 MFI, 60% of respondents admitted that career opportunities are given to less qualified employees instead of mothers who are more skilled.
Companies that want to hold onto their working moms need to create an environment of flexibility, but also one where moms don’t feel intimidated to take time to care for their children. The most effective way to eliminate this fear, according to Manning, is to manage based on performance expectations.
By doing this, working moms can focus on the quality of their work, instead of when and how long they are in the office. For example, a working mom won’t be afraid to go pick up her kids from school or work from home on Fridays if she’s getting excellent, and frequent, reviews on her work.
Make sure technology is in place to facilitate flexibility and reassurance
Technology allows for much more flexibility in the workplace today. Software like Google Hangouts, Skype and Slack allow working moms to stay in the loop, even when they’re working from home. Additionally, virtual private networks (VPNs) allow employees to work from pretty much anywhere these days.
Manning also recommended using technology to provide a space in which employees are able to recognize the great work happening in the company.
“One of the things that Kazoo does well enables managers and employees to have real-time conversations and alignment conversations around what matters,” Manning said.
On Kazoo, any employee can highlight the accomplishments, impact, or skills of another employee at any time. The recognition can give working moms the confidence and encouragement they need to go for a promotion or project. Without feedback, working moms may be constantly second-guessing their standing at the company.
“When you have a platform and culture that continues to identify the strengths and gives real-time feedback…it really does help alleviate a lot of that stress,” Manning said.
By putting these systems in place, working moms are able to feel secure in knowing that they are hitting their targets and impressing their managers. Communication between managers and employees is key to reassuring working moms that they’re in a good spot.
“You’ve got to keep that connection going or they’ve got a lot of fear as they return back to work,” Manning said.
Provide a “ramp up” period for when moms return to work
An extremely helpful practice for new mothers is allowing for a ramp-up period when they decide to come back to work. This policy builds on the culture of flexibility by allowing mothers to decide how and when they want to work during the first couple of weeks back.
Options for this period include letting them decide if they’d like to work full-time, part-time, from home or in the office. Another way to build confidence with returning new moms is to offer them training before they fully return to the workforce.
Don’t ask what you have to do, ask what working moms deserve
Instead of asking what a company has to do for working moms, managers should be curious about what they can do to make working moms most comfortable, secure, and productive.
Many offices have Mother’s Rooms, where new moms can go to breastfeed or pump milk. Instead of simply having a private room, a company can include a fridge, a comfortable chair, and a lock on the door. “There’s very little difference in the budget needed to make positive experiences happen, but there’s a huge gap in how it feels to the working mother,” Manning said.
By making a new mother more comfortable, she’ll be happier at work and more able to focus on her work.
Manning mentioned that there is a new mother on Kazoo’s sales team. This new mom has to travel for work a lot, so instead of making the mom carry around all the breast milk in her luggage, the company actually pays to have it shipped home, making her life far less stressful.
“The loyalty and return on productivity and engagement is huge,” Manning said.
Create an environment of awareness and acceptance
Working mothers are leaving and reentering the workforce at such a vulnerable time in their lives. In order to create an inclusive culture at the office, there must be an awareness of the challenges and needs of working moms.
Companies should aim to encourage employees to bring their full self to work, which means that working moms don’t have to leave their “mom self” at home. If a mom feels comfortable bringing her full self to work she’ll be much more productive and motivated to come to work.
What’s important to remember is that a company only creates an environment like that when the leadership actually walks the walk, too.
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