Challenging Traditional Narratives on International Women’s Day 2024

International Women’s Day is time to celebrate remarkable women of the past and present; it’s also a time to inspire the next generation to greatness too. As a continually evolving topic, it’s vital we continue to challenge the traditional narrative that surrounds women in society and business.

While topics such as female role models, pay equality, glass ceilings and empowerment are vital discussions, there are other topics which get less ‘press’ but remain important too.

For example, motherhood. According to recent studies, as many as two-thirds of working mothers say their career stalled after having children, while women are most likely to leave the labor force after having their first child.

Let’s be clear, not all companies get it wrong. Indeed, many women return from maternity leave to find a more empathetic and flexible workplace, with role models and mentors readily available. Yet, many still lack the foresight, infrastructure, or flexibility to mitigate the after-effects of a life event that can be entirely planned for.

As a rule, organizations must continue to do more to support returning mothers. Below are three practical areas I believe (from personal experience having raised three children and had a successful career in high-tech start-ups and the C-suite), businesses need to focus on and really invest in, to create more equitable and progressive environments for this valuable group:

Recognizing a major life transition

First, recognize that you are going through a major life transition that is motherhood. Come to terms with the fact that you simply cannot be everything to everyone all the time. It is important to give yourself grace and to know that it is ok to readjust your timelines and paths to professional success.

As a mother you’ve just added childrearing and mountains of cooking and cleaning to your to do list and there're only 24 hours in a day to achieve everything on your plate. One thing I finally learned is the importance of sequencing. You're not going to have it all at the same time, but you can have it all, in time.

Organizations need to recognize this transition too and provide practical support. Providing access to a ‘Mom’s Room’ as a private, quiet space, enhanced parental leave (for both mothers and fathers) and flexibility around working options are all key elements that can significantly help mothers manage the transition to life as a professional employee and full-time mom.

Creating a support infrastructure

For me, one of the most significant things an employer can do is to create an accessible and trusted network for mothers to access within the workplace. It's all about the infrastructure.

This is an important question that organizations need to consider and take action to address, especially if they are to provide the type and variety of support that mothers need to make that transition back into the workplace a success.

At some point, life's going to come down to babysitting, meal preparation, cleaning, and commuting, but how do you easily find a trusted babysitter, play groups, and myriad of other resources needed? What other little life hacks do your fellow moms know that could help you in that moment? Or who’s there (other than your partner), to tell you, ‘You’re doing a great job’ at the end of a tough day when work might be causing you ‘mom guilt’.

Organizations need to work on ways to standardize and communicate exactly what is available to returning mothers, after all, it’s infrastructure and logistics that make life possible, and that holds true for raising kids and pursuing careers all at the same time.

Competence is the key to flexibility

There are ways to fit the business objective with those of the individual as long as both employer and employee are willing to shift and compromise a little bit. There’s certainly no one-size-fits-all approach that works, but, as long as business objectives and employee obligations are being met, organizations need to back mothers with individual levels of support.

Being able to be there for tennis or swimming lessons, ballet rehearsals or music recitals are memories you can never get back as a mother (or father) if you miss them – they are so important, they are everything.

Organizations that trust, empower, and give mothers the flexibility to be able to experience these kind of life events, are likely the types of working environments where moms will feel more connected to and consequently more likely to stay and pursue rich careers into the future.

Working moms deserve a career as well as a family life and if my personal experiences are anything to go by, there are plenty of understanding employers out there who will appreciate your talent.

There is always more that can be done, but businesses that provide the means to deliver flexibility, infrastructure, and resources to returning mothers will be going a long way to ensuring that no woman ever has to take the decision to pursue a family or a career over one or the other.