Why supporting working mothers is a business imperative

Why supporting working mothers is a business imperative

Written by Mariana Missakian

Photo by Sarah Chai / Creative license

Mariana Missakian, working mothers

As someone who has transitioned from working in the corporate world to advocating for mother-inclusive workplaces, my journey is both personal and universal. I’m here to tell you that it’s time to stop asking mothers to adapt and start asking companies to attract. 

Growing up I was told I could have it all. But when I became a mum, I was told I needed to choose – until a choice was made for me. My story isn’t very special, and it isn’t just my own.  It echoes the countless stories of mothers who have felt the weight of balancing, or at times, choosing between professional ambition and family responsibilities. 

Women are still being asked during interviews, “when are you planning to have children?” I was asked that question for 15 years, and when finally I decided that it was safe for me to become a mother without jeopardising my career, I was then asked whether, in a state of emergency, I would save my child or my job first.

As mothers we find ourselves in a paradoxical situation, where our worth as employees, managers and leaders, is diminished the minute we have children. The statistics are shocking: women are 30% less likely to be called for a job interview than men with the same qualifications and experience, but for mothers, the barriers are even higher. Mothers are six times less likely to be recommended for a job, 79% less likely to be hired compared to women without children. This unfair disparity drives mothers to justify our family choices over and over again, leading us to hide our role as a parent during interviews and even more so on the job. It’s a tough spot for us, because suddenly we have to explain why we deserve the job we have been doing. 

The troubling gender gap in leadership

While it might seem that gender diversity is improving in the workforce, a closer look reveals a troubling trend. If we look at the corporate gender balance landscape from a birds’ eye view, we will be thrilled with the headlines. It’s true, we are seeing more and more women entering the workforce. In fact, there has been an increase of 16% globally in the number of women entering the workforce, but when we zoom in on those numbers, we see a drop in the number of women at the top. Women make up 48% of the global workforce, however, despite this influx they still remain underrepresented in leadership positions. Women occupy only 26% of managerial and leadership roles, and only 5.8% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs

These numbers didn’t add up to me, so I started digging into this data last year when I began working on a doctoral thesis on the leadership gender gap in tech. I wanted to understand why the gender gap at the top was getting wider; more importantly, I wanted to understand why women were leaving their jobs at the mid-career point. What happens around that time that is so significant and is contributing to this ever-growing leadership gender gap? The answer was clear: women leave their jobs when they become mothers. 

 We have been asking CEOs the wrong question – instead of asking, “Are you hiring women?” we should ask, “Are you hiring mothers?” 

Companies could hire as many women as they like to play nice and tick their diversity quota, but by continuing this tokenism the leadership gender gap will never close. Especially considering that more than 70% of working women will become mothers. 

Mothers make great leaders

It is highly unlikely that any significant progress will be made towards closing the gap without the support of working mothers. So, we need to make sure that the corporate world is ready to tap into this significant talent pool and develop a more sustainable gender balanced leadership pipeline. 

It’s time to change the leadership narrative, to include working mothers in the conversation and to lead mother-inclusive workplace transformation. I am dedicating three years of my life to researching how companies can attract, recruit, retain, and support mothers in leadership roles. This call to action is not just about gender equality; it’s a strategic move to tap into a huge talent pool and develop more equitable and sustainable leadership. 

Mothers are often the ones who step back, or more truthfully, who are marginalised and pushed-out of their careers. This has a big ripple effect on leadership demographics, and yet, somehow, mothers are excluded from the leadership conversation and placed as a part of home and family issues. We are not just seeing women leaving the workforce; we are seeing mums stepping out right when they could be stepping up. This is a glaring oversight that represents not just a loss of talent but also a missed opportunity for innovation and growth. 

It’s time for a paradigm shift. Instead of forcing mothers to choose between their careers and families, the time is now to create workplaces that allow every employee, every woman, and every mother, to bring their full selves to work and embrace their full potential. By fostering mother-inclusive workplaces where talent is valued regardless of parental status, we can unlock a wave of leadership that benefits everyone. Companies that fail to attract mothers are not only losing valuable talent but are also missing out on the unique skills and perspectives they bring to the table. 

Let’s change the narrative by asking a different question to the hiring managers and the CEOs. Let’s start asking them, “Did you interview, hire, or promote a mother today?” 


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