Women worried having children hinders career advancement: survey

While most employees agree working mothers bring value to the workplace and make strong leaders, women still find having children negatively affects their career, according to a survey by U.S.-based Bright Horizons Family Solutions.

Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of working parents surveyed agreed women are penalized in their careers for starting families, which can mean being overlooked for a new job or losing a job to less qualified employees.

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“We need to support and embrace motherhood in the workplace and learn from our leaders who are also parents,” says Maribeth Bearfield, chief human resources officer at Bright Horizons. “In order to move forward, change attitudes and make progress, organizations should focus on supporting young female professionals and holding all employees accountable to make sure there’s a real path to the top for women as they grow their families.”

Working mothers also face stigma in the workplace, according to the survey. It found 41 per cent of employees believe working mothers are less devoted to their work and 38 per cent judge them for needing a more flexible work schedule. As well, survey respondents believe working fathers (75 per cent) are more dedicated to their careers than working mothers (59 per cent), and are able to better manage their responsibilities at 77 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively.

As a result, working mothers believe they have to work harder than others to get ahead. More than three-quarters (78 per cent) said they feel they have to prove themselves to gain a leadership role. And more than a third (37 per cent) said they worry they don’t fit the typical leadership role.

Read: Move to 18-month parental leave criticized as ‘misguided’

Workplace culture shows there’s been little progress for working mothers in the last five years with men still dominating the top echelons in business, the report found. As a result, they not only feel held back but find their confidence diminished. Almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of women without children worry how motherhood would affect their careers and 21 per cent of working mothers would be nervous to tell their boss about a pregnancy. A quarter of them also said they’re worried about their colleagues’ perceptions.

The majority (87 per cent) of employees think employers can do more to help mothers advance in the workplace. According to the report, nearly two in five (39 per cent) working mothers said they’d stay with a company if they have the same growth opportunities as those without children. And almost a third (32 per cent) would stay if they were guaranteed their responsibilities wouldn’t be taken from them.

Despite their misconceptions about working mothers, 91 per cent of survey respondents think they have unique skills that make them great leaders in the workplace. Almost as many (89 per cent) feel they bring out the best in employees. Some 85 per cent of employees said motherhood equips women to readily face the challenges of business leaders, while 84 per cent believe mothers in leadership roles will make a business more successful.

Read: Will 18-month parental leave reduce pressures on working families?

The survey also found respondents characterized working mothers as better listeners (65 per cent), calmer in a crisis (51 per cent), more diplomatic (47 per cent) and better team players (44 per cent) than working fathers or employees without children. Respondents also gave working mothers higher ratings in multitasking and time management than other employees in the workforce.