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Michelle Chance

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Thanksgiving: Motherhood and Apple Pie

Posted: 24/11/11 09:51

As Thanksgiving is being celebrated by US families today, it is worth reflecting on a recent survey published by the US Working Mother Research Institute about What Moms Choose.

Invariably UK working mothers face similar issues to our sisters across the pond. So what are the key lessons British employers can learn in order to retain working mothers and attract stay-at-home career-orientated mothers back into the workforce?

1) Offer real career paths and development opportunities for working mums, as opposed to purely a means to collect a pay-cheque each month. 55% of career-orientated stay-at-home mums surveyed said they would prefer to be working; whilst 65% of career-oriented working mothers said they would recommend their employer as a great place to work, compared with only 52% of mums working for financial reasons. Career-orientated mums are twice as likely to have attained supervisor/managerial responsibilities. They also log nearly four more work hours each week on average than their pay cheque peers. This loyalty translates into measurable financial results for the employer.

2) Flexibility: When asked to define what makes a good mother, 63% of respondents said being there when their children leave for school and come home at the end of the day was most important. Lack of flexibility, lack of part-time options and having to work more than 40 hours per week, were amongst the top factors which ultimately push career-orientated mothers out of the workforce. In my experience, UK mothers feel no different. Too often they take the view they must be committed to career or family, but can't practically achieve both. Employers might therefore do well to embrace less traditional methods of flexible working - not just home working or part-time roles but perhaps with an earlier start and finish time to the traditional 9 to 5 model for example.

3) Pay: The US study highlighted the financial price women pay for having children. Women generally take a pay cut when they return to work after time-off to raise children and the differential is more severe for the most educated qualified women -women MBAs see their pay drop 41% relative to male MBA earnings for example. In this day and age, this is astounding. UK, as well as US employers, who deliberately penalise mothers in this way, could find themselves liable to hefty discrimination claims.

4) Role models & mentors: Interestingly both the working and stay-at-home mums surveyed believed that being a good mum involves showing your children that women can succeed professionally and 59% of the career mums said their parents had prepared them to pursue a career. What UK employers can take from this is the value of programmes which encourage working mothers who are leaders in their organisations to mentor other mothers internally and visit schools in order to act as positive role models (to both female and male pupils alike).

5) Finally 'me time': The US study showed that working mothers worry they do not have sufficient time to take care of themselves. Progressive Working Mother 100 Best Companies in the US are making a difference by providing on-site dentists, doctors, gym even grocery delivery services. Although this is more possible for large-scale employers and might be regarded as expendable by many UK employers in these constrained economic times, it is worth noting such benefits are said to reduce stress and lower company private healthcare costs.

The U.S Working Mother Research Institute provides valuable and comprehensive data for US and UK employers alike but it would be great to think that in future such research will evolve to focus not only on working mothers, but what working parents want. Fathers play an equally pivotal role to mothers in terms of their children's development and increasingly have career-flexibility issues too. Let's hope that best employer awards both here and in the States stop being gender specific and spotlight instead which workplaces are best for working parents, rather than just working mothers.

The 2011 U.S Working Mothers Research Institute Report can be found here:

http://www.workingmother.com/research-institute/choices-mothers-make