Women are currently leaving the workforce in droves. From February 2020 to January 2022, women in the US have lost more than 5 million jobs, with 2.3 million leaving the workforce altogether. And they are doing so at a far greater number than men. Last September, women were handing in their notice at a rate 4 times higher than men.
What’s going on? Certainly the pandemic has played a big part – with nearly 40% of women actively seeking new roles citing burnout as the reason. However, it’s not just about being overworked. A study prior to the pandemic shows that women are more likely to be intellectually underutilized and bored at work – which also contributes to burnout.
The story is even more striking when zeroing in on female parents, who often falling victim to the motherhood penalty – leaving them less likely to get promoted, receive a raise, or be given stretch assignments – and left overqualified in their jobs. Meanwhile, neuroscience research actually shows that becoming a mom increases leadership potential, with changes in the brain that allow the employee to be more present, empathic, collaborative, and deal with stress better.
So what can organizations do to help retain these valuable employees and maximize their leadership potential? And what part do internal communications professionals play in helping to address the problem?
First, communicatorss need to understand the needs and drivers of this at-risk population. Data tells us that benefits make all the difference for parents. In fact, 83% of women say they would be willing to leave a job for a role that better supports their desired workplace criteria. This is where paid leave, flexible work programs and childcare factor in, along with mental health support, crisis leave, and budgets to support working from home. Many companies have been adding benefits and adopting new policies in the wake of the pandemic – and internal communications teams have a big role making sure employees understand these new benefits, while framing the changes in a way that demonstrates the organization’s commitment to their wellbeing. This can help to make employees feel valued and supported.
But improving employee engagement, retention and loyalty is just the start. Companies that invest in additional benefits like executive coaching can cultivate a high-quality leadership talent pipeline for the organization. And when applied to working mothers, such programs can generate significant returns in employee performance.
Going beyond the typical professional development programs, coaching helps build mental and emotional endurance, giving individuals the opportunity to take stock of their strengths, identify challenges that may be holding them back from reaching their potential, and gain confidence to develop and implement a plan for success. It also encourages them to be honest with themselves and their managers about what they need to succeed in their role, and to communicate openly about their career goals and aspirations.
For mothers juggling work and family, these programs can go the extra mile to help them feel more supported and engaged at work while changing narratives around motherhood and leadership. But not all coaching programs are created equal. New research show the best returns come from programs that offer a three-prong approach:
1, Make coaching available for working mothers as soon as the pregnancy is known and the employee’s identity shift starts. Coaching offers the employee the exploration of their new role as a working mom, building resilience and confidence in the face of the coming challenges of juggling work and family. It also shows understanding of the needs of this population, which helps generate loyalty.
2. Include both one-on-one and joint support for the employee’s manager, helping foster greater understanding, better communication, and a people-first culture. Leaders can use the extra support as an opportunity for learning to better measure the employees’ potential and supporting continued success, while mitigating any biases against mothers.
3. Lastly, these programs are more likely to be effective if they are framed as leadership opportunities – rather than say a wellness benefit. This positioning signals that motherhood is a step along the leadership path and makes the connections between the skills gained as a parent and that of an executive.
Additionally, these programs can give HR an opportunity for anonymous feedback from an impartial 3rd party, giving leadership visibility around any issues bubbling up that they need to address from a policy or communication point of view. This helps to avoid any potential blind spots or landmines for the management and takes the pressure off employees who fear they might be penalized for speaking up.
Working moms are at the end of their ropes, and they can’t quit their jobs as parents. But rather than having them leave the workforce, companies should seek to provide and compassionately communicate about resources and benefits to support their practical needs while helping them step into their full potential as leaders. By supporting them with a coach that understands their needs at work and home and who can engage them across their various pain points, companies can find the key to unlocking a high-performing and loyal workforce.
Sara Madera has led organizations and teams across the globe before founding Plan Creatively to offer career coaching to working moms through corporate, individual and community programs.