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As the aromatic scent of Mother’s Day roses begins to waft through the air, let’s ponder on a different kind of bouquet we could offer our hardworking mothers. Picture this: a bouquet of flexible work options, wrapped up in the velvety petals of understanding and empathy. Now that’s a gift that keeps on giving!
The surprising state of motherhood
The latest State of Motherhood report from Motherly, with almost 10,000 mother respondents, paints an interesting picture. The number of stay-at-home mothers nearly doubled from 2022 to 2023, leaping from 15% to 25%. The pendulum of motherhood, it seems, has swung back to its norm, staying within the typical range of 24% to 28%. Last year was the outlier, a remarkable blip on the radar, with a significantly lower number of stay-at-home moms.
Why? Because mothers were armed with the magic wand of work flexibility. As more companies are herding their employees back to the office, some mothers find themselves in a tight corner. With no other choice, they take on the full-time job of caring for their kids, triggering an exodus from the workforce.
According to Jill Koziol, Motherly CEO and cofounder, “In 2022, mothers were riding the wave of flexible or hybrid work arrangements, relics from the pandemic era. With the abrupt return to in-office work, it seems the invoice was sent directly to the mothers.”
That’s what I tell my clients who are deciding whether to have a flexible or inflexible return to office plan: if they don’t offer mothers flexibility, a large number will leave the workforce. It’s an inevitable consequence of a top-down mandate.
Related: You Should Let Your Team Decide Their Approach to Hybrid Work. A Behavioral Economist Explains Why and How You Should Do It.
Who paid the price?
In our rush to return to “normal,” we may overlook the cost of such transitions. The Motherly survey tells a tale of a quiet, yet impactful departure from the workforce. And the numbers don’t lie. A full 18% of mothers changed jobs or left the workforce entirely last year. Some may read this statistic and shrug, but let’s dive deeper into the why.
For 28% of these mothers, the desire to be at home with their kids was the driving force. On the surface, this seems like a personal choice, and indeed it is. But underneath, there’s a complex network of factors at play, including the lack of flexible work options.
For 15% of mothers, the absence of childcare options was the deal breaker. This isn’t a minor inconvenience. It’s a roadblock that slams the brakes on a mother’s career, often with long-term consequences.
Related: Why Employers Forcing a Return to Office is Leading to More Worker Power and Unionization
The flexibility factor
And yet, the solution isn’t as elusive as it may seem. The Motherly survey found that 64% of stay-at-home moms would return to the workforce if offered flexible work schedules. The mere availability of flexible work isn’t a bonus or a perk. It’s a powerful lever that can significantly alter the employment landscape for mothers.
Imagine the impact. Thousands of mothers re-entering the workforce, contributing their skills, perspectives, and ideas. Thousands of families gaining additional financial security. It’s a win-win situation, and all it requires is a shift in perspective, a reevaluation of our rigid work structures.
An alternative approach is improving the affordability of childcare. Over half, 52% of the mothers surveyed, would return to work if affordable childcare was available — less so than if offered flexibility, but still a large chunk. The current system, where childcare costs often eat up a significant portion of a paycheck, is untenable for many families.
But this isn’t an issue that individual families should shoulder alone. Employers, policymakers, and society at large all have a role to play in creating solutions. This might include employer-sponsored childcare, subsidies, or policies that help bring down the cost of childcare. Thus, individual employers who are unwilling to be flexible should offer childcare support: they won’t get the full benefits of flexibility, missing out on 12% of working moms, but they will get most of the benefits.
Of course, most companies won’t be able to afford that expense. So here’s a radical idea for this Mother’s Day. Instead of the typical gifts, let’s consider giving mothers something that will truly make a difference: flexible work. It doesn’t cost the company more money — instead, flexible work saves money, to the tune of up to $11,000 per employee. This isn’t a gift that’s given once and forgotten. It’s a gift that keeps on giving, day after day, month after month. It’s a gift that acknowledges the realities of motherhood and the value of a mother’s contribution to the workforce. Let’s make this Mother’s Day the start of a new era. An era where we don’t just pay lip service to the importance of work-life balance, but actively create the conditions that make it possible. An era where flexible work isn’t an exception, but the norm.
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