In March 2023, KLAY asked working mothers about the challenges they face while balancing child care and productivity at work via an online survey, and 782 mothers responded.
In this article, we used the findings to discuss factors that impact mothers at work and what organizations can do about it.
- Factors that impact mothers at work
- Factor 1 : Selective implementation of labor laws
- Factor 2 : Gendered work policies
- Factor 3: Mother’s Guilt
- Working mothers are already masters of productivity
- Solution 1 : Quality child care
- Solution 2 : Flexible work options
- Solution 2a: A message for SME owners and startup founders
- Key Takeaways
Factors that impact mothers at work
Indian women bear a disproportionate load of household duties. At the same time more and more women have entered the workforce. Consequently, this has created a burden of conflicting responsibilities on working women, and particularly for mothers.
Factor 1: Selective Implementation of Labor Laws
The Maternity Benefit Amendment came into force from 1 April 2017. This amendment increased maternity leaves for women in the organized sector from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, included leaves for adoption and surrogacy cases, provided a work from home option, and mandated that all establishments with 50 or more employees should have creche facilities.
To understand the implementation of this important legislation, KLAY undertook a survey among organizations in 2018. According to the findings, 72% of organizations provided six to nine months of paid maternity leave. It is also heartening to know that numbers have improved since 2018 till today, going by this podcast episode on working mothers by Cost to Company. This survey showed that while 64% of women who became mothers before 2018 had access to paid maternity leave, this number increased to 84% for those who became mothers after 2018.
While more women get paid maternity leave today than in 2018, many continue to be denied access to paid leave or other maternity related benefits.
Factor 2: Gendered Work Policies
Working mothers I spoke to told me about snide comments from colleagues that they were not working as hard or ‘are having it easier’ because of sudden and multiple absences at work. They also confided their need to overcompensate when they returned to work post maternity, in order to prove that they were not liabilities to their teams. Finally, we all know of mothers who quit because of bosses who threw tantrums when they asked to work from home, or because of lack of suitable child care options.
With little to no support for the challenging responsibilities of child care, many capable working mothers compromise on their ambitions by turning down more demanding roles, or by sticking to teams with understanding bosses and colleagues.
Fathers who want to play a more active role are also not supported adequately. According to the 2018 KLAY survey, less than 5% of organizations had paternity policies. One father who asked for paternity leave when his son was born was ridiculed by his teammates. His boss dismissed his request and asked him to report to work in a week’s time.
Maternity leave has been implemented by most organizations. But it is not positively accepted or supported by working teams at many organizations, especially those who are not mothers themselves. Paternity leave is hardly implemented, let alone accepted.
Factor 3: Mother’s Guilt
In the podcast episode on working mothers by Cost to Company, when asked what they were struggling with most, nearly everyone said, ‘guilt’. Many said, ‘I feel guilty that I cannot give my 100% to my job or to my children.’ Others said, ‘I struggle with stress and anxiety about balancing multiple responsibilities.’
This guilt is structural and pervasive. Read about mother’s guilt in my chat with Meghna Yadav, Child Psychologist and Head of Training & Development at KLAY, in this article.
Working mothers are already masters of productivity
Balancing multiple stakeholders with contradictory goals is no mean feat. In fact, around the world this kind of work gets CEOs paid millions a year! Working mothers do this every single day, but they still have to prove themselves over and over again at work. All because being a mother is viewed as a liability in the business context.
Solution 1: Quality Child Care
The 2023 KLAY survey’s eye opening statistic is the healthy increase in productivity reported by working mothers who used day care facilities. Respondents were asked to score how productive they felt at work, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being least productive and 10 being most productive.
|Mode of work||With other childcare arrangements||With day care|
|Work from home||7.4||7.8|
|Work from office||6.3||7.3|
|Average productivity score||6.8|
But hardly any organizations provide access to child care facilities, according to the survey of 600+ working mothers by Cost to Company.
|Type of business||Access to maternity leave||Access to child care facility|
Solution 2: Flexible Work Options
Mothers who return to work post maternity look forward to the professional challenges ahead of them. They are also highly motivated to prove themselves. At the same time, they rely on a delicate network of family, day care and other child care arrangements to enable them to be at work. Any break or change in this arrangement affects their availability, sometimes at short notice.
In the recent survey by KLAY, around 50% of women with children under seven and in middle to mid-senior levels in their organization preferred a hybrid model of working. This is understandable, because working from home a few days a week gives them the flexibility to meet their professional responsibilities while being around for their children.
The survey also noted that 1 out of 4 women are forced to choose between childcare and their jobs because of relatively inflexible work policies. With companies now calling their employees back to office full-time, more women are having to make this problematic choice.
Workplace policies that value productivity over face time in office, working around sudden absences, and a basic sense of empathy will help mothers, or anyone going through a major change in life, adapt better.
Solution 2a: A message for SME owners and startup founders
A young company is very similar to a young child, in that it needs all the help it can get to make a mark in its field. As a small, growing organization, we understand that you cannot afford to lose critical members of their team, even temporarily. But what if you built for it from the start?
Firstly, becoming a parent is a major life event, like marriage, death or illness. All of these are inevitable and are likely to occur at some point or the other.
Also, everyone needs a break once in a while; burnout is real. Becoming a mother is not a holiday by any measure, but systemizing a long break will help everyone in the organization, in the long run.
Finally, we urge all organizations, big and small, to tie up with daycares nearby. As the survey results clearly show, quality child care has an outsized impact on a working mother’s productivity. A tie up today will set you up with engaged employees for the future, especially amongst working mothers.
We appreciate the progress made in corporate policy around maternal leave and child care facilities. But there is still a lot of room for improvement.
- The Maternity Amendment Act of 2017 includes mandates for maternity and paternity leave, work from home options and provisions for daycare.
- Recent surveys show that 70-80% of working mothers get six months of maternity leave. But the mindsets of employees are far from supportive of working mothers returning after a maternity break.
- In the survey, child care is reported to boost mothers’ productivity the most. Yet its implementation is an abysmal 4-7%, especially amongst SMEs and startups.
- Mothers with young children prefer hybrid working models, because it helps them balance work with child care better.
- Today, companies are asking employees to return to the office. Without flexible work options and subsidized day care, more and more women will be forced to choose between work and child care.
- Cultural shifts that value productivity over time spent at the office, working around sudden absences, and a basic sense of empathy for a major life change can greatly help mothers at work.
- Becoming a parent is a major life event, like death, marriage, or illness. Small and growing companies may struggle with long absences from their core team members. But building policies that allow flexibility and the option for long leaves from the start can be a sustainable growth path. It can also attract top talent looking for this balance.