Is motherhood a glass ceiling? 46% of women say co-workers treat them unfairly for having kids

NEW YORK — Two-thirds of working moms believe between four and eight months is the ideal time off for maternity leave, according to new research. The survey of 2,000 employed moms of school-aged children reports that six in 10 moms went back to work less than four months after their child was born, with 26 percent reporting they returned to their jobs in less than two months.

Results show that while many moms had an easy time getting back to work (55%), 35 percent say it was hard for them to regain their footing after being away. Respondents cite barriers related to breastfeeding, including time and privacy to pump and a secure place to store breastmilk among the top challenges of returning to work after being home.

The OnePoll survey commissioned by SurePayroll also finds that many women had a hard time not being around their child (55%) or getting used to a schedule again (33%). Yet, most mothers agree that they feel gratified by the work they’re able to accomplish outside of their household (71%) and they’re ready to take on the workforce, whether to make enough income for their family (56%) or because they want to further their careers (25%).

Fifty-seven percent of moms say they missed being at their job while on leave. The top things they missed about their job include their work itself (42%) and sharing time with their colleagues (41%).

Almost two-thirds (64%) say their drive to climb the corporate ladder was already high before their child’s birth. In fact, 54 percent of working moms are more motivated than ever to continue their career ascension.

working mothers

Is there a glass ceiling for working mothers?

The climb isn’t always easy, as 46 percent believe others treat them as if they’re not committed to their work because they have children. Sadly, 51 percent think they weren’t considered for a promotion or new opportunity after becoming a mom. Many also recognize that the road toward their goals may still be winding, with 57 percent admitting they’re concerned that issues with finding child care will harm their career progression.

Respondents name gender-based bias — including “archaic thought processes and opinions about women’s roles,” “male-dominated” jobs, and “alpha-males who think that a woman’s place is in the home” — along with finding work-life balance, and “the mental workload of managing both the home and the job” as key barriers women face while climbing the corporate ladder.

One-quarter of respondents think the workforce is different now compared to before their child was born. Half of the women surveyed have switched jobs since their child was born, and most of these respondents think the search for a new job was more challenging than their previous job (64%). Similarly, 63 percent are finding the interview process for a new job to be more challenging than they originally remembered.

“Attracting and retaining moms in today’s competitive job market requires a creative, flexible and personalized approach, starting with the interview process,” says Linda Alperin, head of sales at SurePayroll, in a statement. “Hiring your team’s next star contributor could very well come down to how a mom returning to the workforce views their interview experience.”

Working moms hope to ‘have it all’

Two-thirds of respondents share that before their child’s birth, they felt the need to “have it all” by being a good mom, having a successful career and balancing other aspects of their life. Currently, 70 percent of these respondents still feel this pressure.

However, nearly half of respondents say being back at work makes them feel like a better mom (48%), and some are ready to be their own boss, with 59 percent of moms who aren’t already small business owners expressing interest in opening one.

“Women own about 43 percent of small businesses in the U.S., generating roughly $1.9 trillion per year,” says Alperin. “Women want to open small businesses for a variety of reasons including greater flexibility, more control, and the ability to turn their passion to profit. More than ever, women want to have it all, and small business ownership is a path to that goal.”

Dr. Nikki Pensak is a Clinical Psychologist who specializes in maternal mental health. She says more support in the office for women returning from maternity leaves can pay dividends for both the new mom and the business too.

“When I hear about the challenges that many moms face when going back to work, such as lack of self-confidence, missed opportunities for promotion, biases and negative judgments about work commitment, and lack of support from employers and colleagues, I am reminded of the need to educate the higher ups and moms themselves about the brilliance of the maternal brain,” she tells StudyFinds. “Postpartum and the back-to-work transition is a period of prolific neuronal growth and adaptation for mothers. Research supports that the maternal brain is essentially fine-tuning itself for optimal functioning; ridding itself of unnecessary brain networks known as synaptic pruning and increased brain activity in a greater number of areas towards tasks compared to non-mother counterparts.”

“Tons of new learning is occurring related to childbearing, and employers should take advantage of this wave of neuroplasticity. It’s an opportunity to better support mothers in their return to work and to engage them in their work,” says Pensak, author of MOM-ME Brain, set to be published in spring 2024. “In time, what can emerge is a smarter, more efficient, creative, and productive employer. No one is a better problem-solver and more efficient than a mother who has to soothe, feed, pay, engage, bond, clean, and tend to all of the needs on demand from an infant. The maternal brain supports this adaptation and the skillset can translate to the office. Let’s empower mothers to understand what they are working with under the hood and educate employers to better understand their mistakenly under tapped resource.”

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