The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

3 Ways HR Can Help Support and Retain Working Mothers

A recent Gallup article noted that the workforce is currently down 500,000 more women than men compared to before the pandemic. The cause? Many women have left or drastically reduced their working hours to care for young children or school-age children who are learning virtually at home.

That so many working mothers have left the workforce due to the environment created by the pandemic is a big problem with even bigger consequences. For higher ed, this could lead to fewer women in the leadership pipeline; loss of valuable institutional knowledge and experience; disproportionate future merit-based promotions and pay raises among men and women; greater vulnerability to future layoffs; and more women than men pursuing less-demanding jobs to accommodate a higher-earning spouse.

HR can help support and retain this integral segment of the workforce by recognizing and responding to their needs. Here are three action steps to consider:

  1. Initiate the conversation. HR can help retain working mothers by reaching out to them first and asking what they need to be successful and to stay in the job. This takes the weight of asking for help off the employees’ shoulders and shows that the institution cares, recognizes their unique challenges and is willing to find solutions.
  2. Decrease uncertainty where possible. The day-to-day schedule of a working mother is determined by decisions made about in-person or virtual learning by childcare facilities and schools. Not knowing what each day will bring can heighten stress and feelings of uncertainty. What short-term and long-term plans can HR put in place to decrease uncertainty among working mothers at your institution and bring peace of mind?
  3. Consider creating a work-from-home policy that is reason-neutral. Weighing reasons can be tricky, and — generally speaking — more flexible schedules work better for everyone. Employees feel more comfortable requesting the time they need, and supervisors are less likely to compare one employee’s reason to another’s.

An article by Forbes summed up how employers should approach the issue of working mothers leaving the workforce: “We can view the challenge of the coronavirus as a kind of innovation lab, a live experiment, and not just a crisis to be weathered. We can embrace this moment to create a new, better normal — one that no longer penalizes working women and poses impossible trade-offs between work and home life. The result would be a more balanced, sustainable way of life for both women and men.”

What practical ways has your institution helped support working mothers during the pandemic? Share your tips and ideas in the CUPA-HR Connect General Discussion Group.

Related resources:

Pregnancy Discrimination Toolkit

Telecommuting Toolkit

COVID-19 Resources

4 Tips For Managing Your Newly Remote Team (This blog post was written last year, but the tips are still relevant today!)

University of Washington HR Resources for Child and Family Care During COVID-19