How employers can make work work for moms

News & Politics

Recently, I spoke with Tim Carney, author of “Family Unfriendly,” on the ways in which the corporate life and culture of America has made it difficult for families — especially big families — to thrive.

This thesis stuck with me, and it changed the way I’ve been thinking about the work-home dichotomy. Following this train of thought, I sought out Regina Bethencourt, founder and CEO of Tenuto Consulting, a company that provides research-based branding solutions for higher education and mission-based organizations.

Regina spoke to me about how she’s organized her life and company to accommodate big families, and why she believes it is, in fact, possible to be a stay-at-home mom and a working professional — provided you have a little courage and creativity to spare.

— Helen Roy

“You can’t have it all” has been the common objection to sharing my goals for the personal and professional trajectory of my life. You must choose: Either you limit your number of children (or abandon the idea of being a mother altogether) and pursue a career path, or you settle in for a stay-at-home life usually complete with homeschooling, gingham dresses, and sourdough bread.

Both of these paths can be meritorious and deeply fulfilling in their own right, especially for women who feel a specific call to embody the entirety of these two lifestyles. But many women feel that the options are too limited. Those on the career side often lament that they don’t get to spend as much time with their children as they would like, while many women on the stay-at-home side feel a deep desire for a professional or intellectual outlet to expand that side of their person.

The job options for these moms in the middle are nearly nonexistent. Often, they will take jobs well below their skill set and pay grade just to find a little flexibility or a boss who won’t hound them for taking a day to stay at home with a kid with an ear infection. Others get caught up in multilevel marketing companies that especially target these moms who then end up exploited rather than supported.

It took building my own company, a branding and marketing firm, to find a job with the level of flexibility that would allow me to be as present as I need to be for my children yet still pursue a challenging professional career. As my company gained traction, I realized I could extend this opportunity to other women by inviting them to join my team and experience the same flexibility that I had been able to create for myself.

Now, as a team, we have a mission to change the way moms show up to work. Both internally, as we grow our client portfolio and hire more moms in the middle, and externally, as we hope to inspire other CEOs and employers to implement policies that work for moms.

Here are a few top tips that break open doors to opportunity for moms:

Stop tying compensation to hours

There is nothing more confining than the prevailing idea that our work has value according to the hours it took to complete it. In our field of branding, sometimes a logo idea comes from a sudden stroke of inspiration and is completed in 10 minutes. Other times, the concept takes longer, the inspiration isn’t there, and the final logo might start taking shape after a week or two of trial and error.

Is the second logo worth more than the first? No.

When an employee’s compensation is tied to hours worked, it naturally favors the employees who have the most hours available. Moms, because of the demanding physical and logistical challenges of motherhood, naturally have fewer hours available.

However, studies show that moms are substantially more productive at work than their counterparts. Which means if we offer moms work that is tied to deliverables instead of hours (for example: 10 social graphics and five flyers per week), moms have the option to be adequately and accurately compensated for their work, while ALSO spending less time working and more time with their kids. Win-win.

Full time should not mean Mon-Fri 9-5

Connected to the hours culture in the modern-day workplace is also the idea that work needs to be done at a certain time and in a certain place. While certainly some schedule coordination needs to happen to make sure there are times to discuss projects and ideas in person or virtually, the idea that work happens between 9-5 is a leftover from a bygone era.

At Tenuto, we require a minimum of only 20% of your availability to fall during traditional work hours and that’s only to allow for client calls or internal team meetings. You manage the rest of your availability according to what works for you and your schedule.

Some of our team members only work nights and weekends. Others work long days on Tuesdays and Wednesdays but unplug the rest of the week. As long as they hit their deliverables, they are free to set their schedule according to what works for them.

Build backups into your team structure

A major challenge that moms face in the working world is how to manage when things don’t go to plan, which is a frequent reality with the schedules and health of multiple children at play.

Employers have tried to solve this with subsidized backup childcare policies — which help but often aren’t ideal because they require either inviting a stranger into your home or dropping your toddler off at an unfamiliar location and hoping for the best. It’s not ideal, fundamentally, because there is no real equivalent backup for mom. Ask any kindergartner home with a fever.

Instead of backups for childcare, teams should have backups for work projects. If something happens to Sara, Catherine jumps in and takes over her deliverables, and vice versa. Everyone needs help from time to time, so we jump in to help others knowing that that same willingness will be there for us when the inevitable stomach bug hits. We’re humans, not production machines, and we treat each other as such.

Child friendly should actually mean child friendly

Child-friendly work culture often means that children are accepted as long as they are quiet, well-behaved, and appear with sufficient advance notice so that everyone else can brace themselves. We define child friendly as a work culture where babies are regularly nursed on client calls, the tousled head of a toddler who escaped from the babysitter may pop into the corner of the video screen, or an urgent “I need to call you back in 15 minutes” is a common occurrence.

We don’t pretend that moms can work without support. All of our team members use some degree of childcare, whether from a school, a family member, a babysitter, or a daycare program. But we also don’t pretend that moms can or should make their kids disappear in order to be more successful at work. There is always space for a break for a booboo kiss, a lunch picnic, or stories with mom before nap time.

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