- Jessica Milicevic is the owner of Maven Media, a strategic branding and marketing agency in Charlotte, North Carolina.
- As a mother of four, she says she spent her career job-hopping in search of an employer who would be supportive of her goal to balance her own professional path with raising a family.
- Milicevic often found herself devalued in the workplace due to her status as a parent, and has made it part of her work with businesses and brands to help them embrace initiatives to support working mums.
- Employers need to change their mindset around hiring working parents, offer flexible work-from-home options, and create childcare programs or subsidy options to allow parents to be more effective workers, says Milicevic.
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I spent the majority of my professional career job-hopping, trying desperately to find one that would ebb and flow with the demands of motherhood. I wanted to be a present parent; one that could attend school functions, take my kids to the dentist, and be there to care for them when they were sick.
I also wanted to dive deep into my job, follow my passions, and work hard to carve a path for myself. I thought I could do both well, and be both mother and employee on a schedule that allowed for dual responsibilities to be met.
Despite my confidence in this balance, I often found a troubling lack of understanding from my employers.
I never understood why I needed to be chained to a desk for eight hours, when I was able to work efficiently and perform my tasks well on a more flexible schedule to be there for both my kids and my work.
Why couldn’t I work from home one day a week? Why couldn’t I adjust my hours to make childcare more affordable? What was it that made the restraints of the workplace so stringent?
I was never given an answer that I felt justified the tired, outdated workplace model. No matter where I worked, or how hard I performed, I always felt like I had to hide the fact that I was a mum, as well as the challenges I faced as a working mum. Notice I said mum, not parent. That’s because fathers are still not shouldering nearly as much of the childcare and domestic responsibilities as mothers.
A recent study showed that even in the so-called modern society we live in, mothers are still bearing the burden of childcare and domestic responsibilities, a fact that has become especially obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic. Evidence shows female employment dropped by 13% during the shut down, while 10% of male employment did. 64% of mothers also reported having reduced work hours, compared to 36% of fathers.
Because of outdated societal norms and stereotypes, mothers are devalued in the workplace.
It’s a common misconception that just because we have children, we are somehow lacking when it comes to our capabilities, company loyalty, and devotion to our work. We are somehow less of an asset the moment our children’s needs interfere with normal work day activities.
When the pandemic is controlled and mothers are able to return to work, there are changes that need to happen to provide us with more equity, a more even playing field, and more respect. The old cliche that women are supposed to “work like we don’t parent and parent like we don’t work” will no longer fly in a post-pandemic workplace.
We’ve proven that we can, in fact, work from home juggling house, kids, and work tasks without major interruptions in our performance. Not only have we proven that we can balance our responsibilities like pros, but we’ve done so in the middle of a global pandemic.
It’s time to change the way mothers work, and here are four ways employers can help get things off the ground.
1. Change your mindset.
Change within a company’s culture can’t happen until the stereotypes about working mothers are acknowledged and erased, and this change starts at the top. Working mothers have been given unfair reputations since an increase in mothers in the workplace took place in the 1970s, during a time when male-dominated industries still saw us as purely bored housewives and sex objects.
Working mothers were, and still are, presumed to be too daunted with child care tasks to be fully present at work. If we are being considered for a promotion or new task, we are often subject to questions about our ability to manage both the needs of our children and the needs of the job. How can we possibly handle both?
As an employer, stop and ask yourself this question: Do you ever catch yourself wondering if a working father is up to the task of a new task or promotion, because he might have domestic responsibilities that also require his attention? Do you ever worry that he will be late to meetings because of a hang up at home, or unable to attend cocktails to woo a client because he has to pick up his baby from daycare? If you wouldn’t ask these questions of your working fathers, why ask them of working mothers?
2. Give working mothers the chance to work from home at least one day a week.
If the pandemic has shown employers anything, it’s that mothers can work from home and still be excellent employees. The notion that when we are home, we are unfocused and ill-equipped is simply not true. But being home does allow us to save on child care expenses, gives our never-ending mum guilt a day off, and allows our mental health to improve by feeling like we are giving ourselves to both our children and our job.
3. Give mothers a child care subsidy or offer a cost-match program.
The cost of childcare in this country is almost too much for one family to bear. The system is built so parents who are wealthy can afford to send their kids to a high-end daycare, while blue collar parents are forced to send their kids to one that is far below what they want for their children.
Helping parents pay for childcare outright, or setting up a program that matches any amount they put aside from their paycheck to pay for childcare, would lift a major weight off of parent’s minds, allowing them to be more present at work and more effective employees.
4. Understand that life with a child is fluid and allow your working mothers a flexible schedule.
Obviously it wouldn’t be OK for working mothers to come and go as they please, but have compassion when they need to be with their children and come up with a customised plan that allows them to make up any hours they may miss during the typical 9-to-5. Instead of treating mothers as if their children’s needs were a complete inconvenience, talk to them openly and discuss ways that flexible hours can be built into their role.
Working mothers are one of this nation’s greatest untapped resources. We are highly organised, can juggle multiple projects at once and show a great deal of empathy and compassion. To give working mothers a better chance at success in the workplace would serve to bring your company an improved company culture, higher profits and less turnover.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers will be given the opportunity to make history by shifting from the traditional workplace model to one that is more fluid, that can work for all types of employees, and can contribute positively to the economy and our nation. Now is the time for real change.
Jessica Milicevic is the owner of Maven Media and a mother of four. She’s spent her career as a journalist and marketing specialist trying to carve a path that allows her to be devoted to both career and family, and speaks publicly on her own experiences with maternal mental health with the aim of one day changing the national landscape for working mums.