There are a couple variations of a common cliché about execution – one reads “if you need to get something done, ask a busy person,” and another, “if you need to get something done, ask a woman.” As is often said, these silly sayings are clichés for a reason. It makes logical sense that the natural progression would be to combine these sentiments and expect that the best possible person for any urgent job would be a busy woman. And who are the busiest women I know? Hands down, working moms.
Anecdotally in my own life, I’ve spent decades observing women execute tasks both at home and in the corporate setting with astonishing efficiency, consistency, and effectiveness. Maybe it is because we don’t have the luxury of extra time. As a new parent, I can attribute that my work style has shifted significantly due to the addition of my daughter to my life, and more specifically, to my mental and physical workload.
I am now hyperaware of wasted time and energy. I use one word where I once used ten. I schedule twenty-minute meetings instead of the standard thirty or sixty, and I have absolutely no problem wrapping-up after five minutes if the objective has been achieved. This was unheard of in my previous life in Big Corporate, where calls routinely ran over their hour-long slot. This, in part, contributed to my departure from that world. I found myself feeling actual rage over all the waste.
Another theory on why working moms “get it done” so consistently is the increased internal pressure to perform due to a number of factors. If you ask any working mom, especially one with young kids, “mom-guilt” likely tops this list. While society overall is increasingly accepting and vocally supportive of working mothers, the intensely personal and overwhelming feeling of guilt remains for many women. Work can be a calling just as motherhood is, but it is still logistically difficult for the two worlds to coexist.
It’s basic physics: a mom can’t be in two places at once. By being at work, she is sacrificing precious and sometimes significant moments with her child – this can include first steps, first words, or other important milestones. When making a purposeful decision to outsource childcare and return to work, moms absolutely require work full of meaning: impactful assignments, ownership over outcomes, and working on projects from which they derive personal fulfillment.
We also take pride in work from the standpoint of setting an example for our children. In this too, we have come a long way as a society. A recent study asserts that “in the 2010s, 70% of 12th graders believed working mothers could develop equally warm relationships with their children, compared to 53% in the 1970s.”
Adult children of mothers that worked throughout their childhood wholeheartedly agree, one millennial telling Forbes that “watching my mother working as an adolescent was incredibly inspiring. I saw her put herself through a Masters and PhD program, all while maintaining a full time job and working as a single mother. She taught me how to be dedicated, to have a passion for my own personal education, and how to communicate well with others in and out of the work place. I am more successful because I saw my mother work.” This proves true across gender lines, as grown men who were raised by working mothers are similarly inspired, and also tend to contribute more to the household than those raised in a more traditional household with a stay-at-home mother. These data points suggest that having a working mother sets a child up for a more balanced view of gender roles in and outside of the household.
So what can companies do to accommodate working moms? The answer is fairly simple to vocalize but often quite difficult to accomplish: we must focus on creating a culture of flexibility and meaningful work. The latter point is subjective and looks a hundred different ways for a hundred different women. Flexibility, however, is an industry (and company neutral) concept, although the details of its execution may vary. It is no surprise that demand for flexibility is growing by the workforce at large, and no one benefits more from increased flexibility than the working mom. Today’s technology allows for virtual collaboration, many modes of real time communication, and even face-to-face meetings. In today’s always-on corporate world, a traditional 9-5 workday no longer exists, so why require mothers to be in the office during these hours on a daily basis?
There is a largely untapped opportunity here for your company to differentiate from the pack and attract highly skilled working moms by demonstrating a culture of flexibility with a focus on outcomes rather than hours-in-office. While any culture shift can be difficult, this undertaking is a worthwhile one as the result is the recruiting and retention of not only top talent in your industry, but the very employees most likely to “get it done.” Everyone benefits.