The difficulty of balancing the demands of parenthood with those of a professional career drives many women to drop out of the workforce after having children, especially when their employers don’t offer them the right kind of support. The career setbacks women often suffer as a consequence of motherhood has also been identified as a key factor, and quite possibly the main factor, in the gender pay gap. As employers have become more aware of the challenges working mothers face, more organizations are realizing they need to step up their efforts to retain mid-career women after they start families.
One company that has taken an innovative approach to supporting the mothers in its workforce is Fifth Third Bank, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman notes the success of Fifth Third’s maternity concierge service for women looking to raise a family but stay in the workforce:
Maternity Concierge was started in late January and then rolled out as a virtual concierge for employees of the bank’s locations across 10 states. Fifth Third’s chief administrative officer, Teresa Tanner, says that she took note of how many women she spoke to reached a career pivot point when they began planning to start a family. Tanner says that while benefits like flex time, part time, and job sharing can help, “There’s a big cost to that, you still delay your career or slow it down.” …
As companies continue boosting their paid leave offerings to entice talent, as well as provide benefits like egg freezing or shipping breast milk, Fifth Third Bank hit on a partnership with women-owned concierge service Best Upon Request. The bank has offered similar concierge services for all employees in their Cincinnati office for several years, so it didn’t take long to build out this additional free offering for mothers to use before, during, and after their pregnancy in the months after they return to work. Right now, Tanner says there are two full-time concierges working on-site at Fifth Third’s headquarters and part-time concierges in their other locations serving about 200 female employees across all the bank’s locations.
American Express also introduced a concierge service for new parents late last year as part of a suite of new family benefits that also included expanded parental leave and benefits for adoption, surrogacy, and infertility treatments. The most important policy change employers can pursue to better support and retain working mothers is to ensure that they have adequate maternity leave and, when possible, flexibility regarding when and where they work, so that they can more easily juggle work and family responsibilities without being penalized or perceived as undedicated. A less common but valuable family benefit is on-site child care; while the up-front costs of this benefit are high, some companies that have implemented it say it pays for itself in retention and engagement.
Equally important in combatting the “motherhood penalty” is to fight the stigma against working fathers playing an active parenting role by giving male employees support and encouragement to care for their children. Mothers are still expected to be the “primary caregiver” in opposite-sex partnerships, and this expectation also contributes to their limited career progression and the wage gap. This is why more employers, such as Barclays and other financial institutions, are expanding their parental leave and flexibility benefits for “secondary caregivers” as well.