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BY Georgene Huang

The Motherhood Divide In The Workplace: It's Not As Big As You Think

Working mom

Photo credit: Shutterstock

TAGS: Working moms, Work-life balance, Flexibility, Research

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and only my second one as a mom. In other words, I am still new enough to motherhood to have vivid memories of my childless days.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the divide between working moms and childless women in the workplace. For starters, online hostilities seem have broken out between moms and non-moms over a new novel by Meghan Foye. Called “Meternity”, the book focuses on a childless woman who so badly wants self-focused time away from her career that she fakes a pregnancy in order to take a maternity leave.

The uproar by moms was predictable, and judging by the media coverage, maybe even a calculated marketing ploy. Comparing maternity leave to a career sabbatical is a poor analogy given that a typical maternity leave looks more like an un-showered, sleep-deprived fog of identity-crisis and endless diaper-changing than anything resembling time off for self-fulfillment. On the other hand, many commentators rightly point out that childlessness doesn’t mean the lack of demanding, important responsibilities, whether they involve family care-taking or other things.

Motherhood certainly changes your life, forever. Last week I wrote about the fact that I only really became conscious of my gender at work when I became pregnant. So just how different are moms and non-moms when it comes to issues in the workplace? Is the divide between them really a gulf? We set out to investigate.

According to a survey commissioned at Fairygodboss, we did in fact find differences between what women prioritize in their jobs, depending on their parental status. However, the differences are not as great as you might think.

We asked women, “Apart from compensation, what is the number one thing that will be most important to you in your next job?” Across the board, the number one answer was flexible work hours, followed by opportunities for advancement and promotion, a nice and collegial work culture, and the ability to work from home.



When we looked at the answers that childless women gave, however, we saw that opportunities for advancement and promotion was the top priority, followed by flexible hours and a nice and collegial work culture.


Fairygodboss

For mothers, on the other hand, flexible hours and the ability to work from home were more important than opportunities for advancement and promotion, which came in third place.

While these results may seem to reinforce damaging stereotypes that hurt women in the workplace (i.e. assuming and treating mothers as less committed, and “mommy tracking” them as a result), what survey exercises that force artificial prioritization fail to capture is the complexity of human desire.

Looking at these results, it's clear that flexibility is a highly prioritized, common desire between working moms and childless women in the workforce. Both groups of women prioritize flexibility very highly, even if not identically. Both groups of women also place great importance on the opportunity for growth and advancement in their careers.

In other words, working moms want both flexibility, and the ability to advance their careers. And childless women want both, too. When push comes to shove, one group may choose flexibility over advancement opportunities (or vice verse), but this is a false choice. In our modern workplaces, which are being reshaped by technological innovation and a focus on results, it’s not clear why one should be at odds with the other. In many jobs and companies, I would argue that no such trade-off exists. Moreover, many employers are working to eliminate this trade-off in order to retain their talent. As an example, one engineering manager recently wrote about her experience at General Electric on our site, saying:

“The company offers a very broad range of career opportunities with its diverse portfolio. There are women at the officer and board levels. We understand that our biggest issue with increasing women in leadership positions is the mid-career opt-out, and we're actively working to fix that...Flexible work arrangements are available, and it's up to me to work out with my manager what makes sense for my role and my personal goals. I feel fulfilled...and I hope to continue on this path for a long time.”

One journalist I know who is a first-time expecting mother recently confessed mixed feelings about how her impending motherhood would change her. She said, “I worry that I will lose my empathy for my childless coworkers” who she acknowledges also have important personal lives, even if not children.

Well, maybe she need not worry. Our data shows that childless women and mothers in the workplace may share more in common than many assume. From what I can tell, it seems both are trying to advance their careers while having the flexibility to fulfill their other responsibilities and interests. Neither group may be able to “have it all”, but they certainly seem to be trying to make the time to “do it all.”

This article originally appeared in Forbes.

Fairygodboss

Fairygodboss is committed to improving the workplace and lives of women.
Join us by reviewing your employer!
 

 

Related Community Discussions

  • My company recently put in a nursing room/mother's room but it was designed in a way that the majority of the room is fogged glass - except one strip that runs right at sitting level that was left as transparent glass. I don't think it was done intentionally (men designed the room) but I now have to put up sheets of paper to cover the transparent strip of glass. Any idea on how to address this with my (all male) management team?

  • I recently had a child and worked out an arrangement with my manager to work from home 1-2 days/week. I'm the only female on my team and none of the co-workers have a similar arrangement. There have been discreet comments made about my schedule (mostly in a joking way) but it still feels uncomfortable. Has anyone else ran into this?

  • I need some advice. I recently took maternity leave, which ended up turning in to Temporary Disability Leave because of some medical complications I had after the baby was delivered. I returned back to work after being off for 24 weeks. I have returned to the same job and have tried to get back into the swing of corporate life + new baby (first time mom here) and have the opportunity to take an additional 4 weeks off paid by the state, but it needs to be taken and completed before my child turns 12 months old and that's fast approaching.

    I submitted a request to HR to take temporary leave of absence and my HR department is denying me the ability to take this leave, stating that I exhausted the 13 weeks FMLA that the company offers (has to offer) to all employees. They are saying that I don't qualify for this leave until a full 12 months after my initial leave started. Everything I have read online and everyone I have talked to say that FMLA and TCI leave are completely different and separate. Technically, I think I am allowed to take this leave, the State says I qualify for it, but it's now in my employers hands and I am afraid if they deny me, and I choose to still take the leave, that I will not have job security. The brochure talking about TCI doesn't say anything about FMLA being the deciding factor "http://www.dlt.ri.gov/tdi/pdf/TCIBrochure.pdf."

    Does anyone know what my rights are? Can I legally take the 4 weeks off, and still have a job to return back to? Given that I had to take so much time off, do I still qualify for job protection and benefits?

    Thank you for any an all help.

  • I need some advice. I recently took maternity leave, which ended up turning in to Temporary Disability Leave because of some medical complications I had after the baby was delivered. I returned back to work after being off for 24 weeks. I have returned to the same job and have tried to get back into the swing of corporate life + new baby (first time mom here) and have the opportunity to take an additional 4 weeks off paid by the state, but it needs to be taken and completed before my child turns 12 months old and that's fast approaching.

    I submitted a request to HR to take temporary leave of absence and my HR department is denying me the ability to take this leave, stating that I exhausted the 13 weeks FMLA that the company offers (has to offer) to all employees. They are saying that I don't qualify for this leave until a full 12 months after my initial leave started. Everything I have read online and everyone I have talked to say that FMLA and TCI leave are completely different and separate. Technically, I think I am allowed to take this leave, the State says I qualify for it, but it's now in my employers hands and I am afraid if they deny me, and I choose to still take the leave, that I will not have job security. The brochure talking about TCI doesn't say anything about FMLA being the deciding factor "http://www.dlt.ri.gov/tdi/pdf/TCIBrochure.pdf."

    Does anyone know what my rights are? Can I legally take the 4 weeks off, and still have a job to return back to? Given that I had to take so much time off, do I still qualify for job protection and benefits?

    Thank you for any an all help.

  • I am currently 36 weeks pregnant and gearing up to go on maternity leave at the end of the month. I recently came across a new job oppurnity that would be better for my family. I'm at the finishing stages of interviewing with this new company and I am worried that I will find out I got the job while on maternity leave. My question is, what happens to my maternity benefits and how do I go about leaving my current job without issue?

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The Motherhood Divide In The Workplace: It's Not As Big As You Think

The Motherhood Divide In The Workplace: It's Not As Big As You Think

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and only my second one as a mom. In other words, I am still new enough to motherhood to have vivid memories of my chil...

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and only my second one as a mom. In other words, I am still new enough to motherhood to have vivid memories of my childless days.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the divide between working moms and childless women in the workplace. For starters, online hostilities seem have broken out between moms and non-moms over a new novel by Meghan Foye. Called “Meternity”, the book focuses on a childless woman who so badly wants self-focused time away from her career that she fakes a pregnancy in order to take a maternity leave.

The uproar by moms was predictable, and judging by the media coverage, maybe even a calculated marketing ploy. Comparing maternity leave to a career sabbatical is a poor analogy given that a typical maternity leave looks more like an un-showered, sleep-deprived fog of identity-crisis and endless diaper-changing than anything resembling time off for self-fulfillment. On the other hand, many commentators rightly point out that childlessness doesn’t mean the lack of demanding, important responsibilities, whether they involve family care-taking or other things.

Motherhood certainly changes your life, forever. Last week I wrote about the fact that I only really became conscious of my gender at work when I became pregnant. So just how different are moms and non-moms when it comes to issues in the workplace? Is the divide between them really a gulf? We set out to investigate.

According to a survey commissioned at Fairygodboss, we did in fact find differences between what women prioritize in their jobs, depending on their parental status. However, the differences are not as great as you might think.

We asked women, “Apart from compensation, what is the number one thing that will be most important to you in your next job?” Across the board, the number one answer was flexible work hours, followed by opportunities for advancement and promotion, a nice and collegial work culture, and the ability to work from home.



When we looked at the answers that childless women gave, however, we saw that opportunities for advancement and promotion was the top priority, followed by flexible hours and a nice and collegial work culture.


Fairygodboss

For mothers, on the other hand, flexible hours and the ability to work from home were more important than opportunities for advancement and promotion, which came in third place.

While these results may seem to reinforce damaging stereotypes that hurt women in the workplace (i.e. assuming and treating mothers as less committed, and “mommy tracking” them as a result), what survey exercises that force artificial prioritization fail to capture is the complexity of human desire.

Looking at these results, it's clear that flexibility is a highly prioritized, common desire between working moms and childless women in the workforce. Both groups of women prioritize flexibility very highly, even if not identically. Both groups of women also place great importance on the opportunity for growth and advancement in their careers.

In other words, working moms want both flexibility, and the ability to advance their careers. And childless women want both, too. When push comes to shove, one group may choose flexibility over advancement opportunities (or vice verse), but this is a false choice. In our modern workplaces, which are being reshaped by technological innovation and a focus on results, it’s not clear why one should be at odds with the other. In many jobs and companies, I would argue that no such trade-off exists. Moreover, many employers are working to eliminate this trade-off in order to retain their talent. As an example, one engineering manager recently wrote about her experience at General Electric on our site, saying:

“The company offers a very broad range of career opportunities with its diverse portfolio. There are women at the officer and board levels. We understand that our biggest issue with increasing women in leadership positions is the mid-career opt-out, and we're actively working to fix that...Flexible work arrangements are available, and it's up to me to work out with my manager what makes sense for my role and my personal goals. I feel fulfilled...and I hope to continue on this path for a long time.”

One journalist I know who is a first-time expecting mother recently confessed mixed feelings about how her impending motherhood would change her. She said, “I worry that I will lose my empathy for my childless coworkers” who she acknowledges also have important personal lives, even if not children.

Well, maybe she need not worry. Our data shows that childless women and mothers in the workplace may share more in common than many assume. From what I can tell, it seems both are trying to advance their careers while having the flexibility to fulfill their other responsibilities and interests. Neither group may be able to “have it all”, but they certainly seem to be trying to make the time to “do it all.”

This article originally appeared in Forbes.

Fairygodboss

Fairygodboss is committed to improving the workplace and lives of women.
Join us by reviewing your employer!
 

 

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