October 21, 2013
Ways to eliminate bias against working mothers
"I love my career, but my boss makes me feel guilty whenever I need to leave early because of my children," commented a client. "If he had kids, I don't think he'd question my dedication to work."
The situation described is similar to the attitudes uncovered in the study What Moms Think: The Working Mother Report, a national survey of 4,600 working moms, women, stay-at-home moms, working fathers and men. The results revealed that career-oriented mothers were more likely to feel they could not get away from work and were more likely to believe that managers and co-workers questioned their work commitment.
The survey also revealed some surprising attitudes on how working mothers feel:
• Women who identify with having a career reported that they are more satisfied and feel more positive in every area of work and life, versus women who stated they merely have a job.
• Career-oriented women feel more respected at home and say their spouses are more helpful.
• Career-oriented women were more likely to report that they felt healthy, that their life was in balance and that their work fulfilled a higher purpose than "just making money."
Where do men stand when it comes to career-oriented women? Working fathers had favorable impressions of working mothers. However, the study showed that men without children (as in my client's situation) tended to rate working mothers as less committed to career advancement, less willing to take on additional work and less committed to job responsibilities than working women with no children. Women without children also tended to have harsher views of working mothers.
To eliminate bias against working mothers, the study sponsors recommend:
• Directing diversity and inclusiveness training toward childless men and women.
• Within the training, "include specific reference to unintended biases people without children may hold" and provide exposure to working mothers as role models, women who are committed to both their careers and their families.
• Provide work flexibility for all employees (not just positioned as a working mother issue), and be mindful of the outside stress that working mothers (and fathers) face.
One of the best ways I've found to eliminate bias against working mothers (and fathers) is to measure and manage employee performance based on results -- not based on the amount of time employees spend at work.
Are you a working mother (or father) who has had to deal with bias in your career? What have you done to overcome this issue?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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