How To Manage Motherhood in the Workplace
Women who choose to have children are at a major disadvantage compared to men in the workplace, which ultimately contributes to the gender inequality still rampant in society today.

Written by Mackenzie Patterson

Published on March 7, 2022

For decades, women have been making incredible strides in the workforce. As of 2019, women accounted for nearly half (47 per cent) of the Canadian workforce, compared to just 37 per cent in 1976 according to a report conducted by Catalyst.

However, many barriers continue to prevent women from achieving true equality in the workplace. Women who choose to have children are at a major disadvantage compared to men in the workplace, which ultimately contributes to the gender inequality still rampant in society today. In fact, the New York Times reported that for each child they have, women see a 4 per cent reduction in their pay, while men get a 6 per cent increase.

This article will explore some of the current issues, and barriers mothers face in the workplace. We will also outline some potential solutions for these challenges and steps employers can take to support mothers at work better.

Common barriers for mothers in the workplace 

Women already face several barriers in the workplace, but motherhood adds even more challenges to the list. For example, according to the American Association of University Women, women are 40 per cent more likely than men to report that childcare issues have harmed their careers. 

Due to what’s known as “the motherhood penalty,” mothers are at a disadvantage in terms of pay, benefits and perceived competence at work. The motherhood penalty can result in women being passed over for promotions or opportunities, which ultimately exacerbates the problem of gender inequality in the workforce.

The pandemic only compounded these issues further as mothers struggled to find childcare options for their children amidst the restrictions. A recent report from the IZA Institute of Labour Economics found that male-female gaps in the employment-to-population ratio had widened in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. 

In addition, a study from RBC found that between the months of February and October of 2020, more than 20,000 women had exited the workforce. Perhaps more problematic is that the study noted that more women are generally working in industries hit the hardest by the pandemic. 

Kate McGoey-Smith, a Clinical Social Work therapist on the Inkblot platform, agrees that mothers face several additional barriers at work compared to fathers. For starters, she noted that mothers are 28 per cent more likely to experience burnout than men and that almost 10 million working moms in the U.S. reported feeling burnt out in 2020.

“A number of the issues that mothers face have to do with transitioning between work and home life,” she says. “Sometimes their dedication to work comes into question, for example, if one of their children should become sick and they have to take extra time off. Many working moms feel like co-workers are judging them and maybe even passed up for promotions, and they may find it impossible to find time for themselves.”

How to identify and ask for what you need at work 

While some women can afford to pay for childcare options, many women don’t have access to this kind of support. In any case, mothers often need to adjust their schedules to care for their children, requiring employers to take a more flexible approach. For many working moms, this is where feelings of guilt often come in. 

McGoey-Smith notes that we have 60,000 thoughts in a day, and of these, 80 per cent are typically negative. However, she says it’s important to rise above these negative thoughts and feelings to focus on effective problem-solving.

“Even if we’re scared, we need to think about our needs and be able to express them to the boss while still showing competency,” she says. “For example, presenting a problem to the boss may make them feel nervous, defensive or cornered. But if you present a potential solution, they’ll generally be more willing to work at it with you or engage in a negotiation.” 

What organizations and leaders need to know about supporting mothers in the workplace 

In order to help close the gaps caused by gender inequality at work and better support working moms, McGoey-Smith says employers need to recognize that employees have diverse needs, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

“Employers need to address people’s individual needs,” she says. “For example, if I have three kids and one kid needs a pair of boots, I don’t go buy three new pairs of boots for each of them. It’s about understanding that people have different needs at different times.”

McGoey-Smith notes that if every employee feels heard, seen and supported in the workplace, the entire team will ultimately be more productive. Employers who encourage regular self-care activities and lead by example will be more likely to create a safe space for everyone at work.

Overcoming the need for perfection

Juggling work, life and family responsibilities is no easy feat. If you’re a working mom, it’s essential to give yourself some grace and avoid self-criticism. McGoey-Smith says that living in accordance with your values and pursuing balance instead of perfection will help you avoid burnout in the long run.

“We talk a lot about work/life balance, but foundationally, there needs to be a love balance,” she says. “It can be so much easier to love others than ourselves. We know their needs and wants — yet we don’t ask what we need or want. Taking even just 15 minutes a day to ask ourselves what we need or want, maybe having that bubble bath or just taking that time to sit and relax and listen to music, is well worth it.”

Find the care that’s right for you with support from Room For Her

Being a working mother can often demand prioritizing the needs of others over your own, but showing yourself the same love and attention will ultimately help you show up as your best self more often. Room For Her can help you find support by removing the barriers women face in accessing therapy, including not knowing how to find a therapist, long wait times, and the costs, inconvenience, and time spent travelling to and from traditional in-person therapy.

Try one year of free self-guided digital therapy today.

Disclaimer: This article contains guidelines or advice not intended to self-diagnose or treat. No content should be used as a substitute for direct advice from a qualified professional such as your doctor or mental health professional. Please reach out for support with a certified professional related to the symptoms you may be experiencing.

If you are in crisis and require immediate support, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. Alternately, please contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1 833 456-4566 (en tout temps). 1-833-456-4566 (24/7). For residents of Québec, call1 866 APPELLE (1 866 277-3553).

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