Unravelling the lives, challenges and desires of working and stay-at-home mothers  

Unravelling the lives, challenges and desires of working and stay-at-home mothers   

Sunday May 13, 2018,

8 min Read

A look at what’s preventing the progression of women’s careers after motherhood, understanding what they really need and assessing how the ecosystem can evolve to meet their demands.

It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday, the day all mothers get pampered with gifts from their children and discount offers from retailers!

While this is great, wouldn’t it be nicer if we also addressed some of the larger and deeper problems mothers face?

In addition to caring for their families, most mothers also aspire to become career achievers without the burden of feeling “guilt and having to make extra-ordinary “sacrifices” in life. Unfortunately, the ecosystem around women has not evolved enough to support their ambitions. As a result, motherhood often makes them sacrifice their dreams and compromise on their aspirations.

With The Happy Mom project, we are taking a hard look at the what’s preventing the progression of women’s careers after motherhood, understanding what they really need and assessing how the ecosystem (industry, government and academia) can evolve to meet their demands.

So far, we have interacted with more than 2000 mothers – both working and non-working, to gather data from their stories and experiences.

We have had 21 organisations make pledges towards specific actions that will take in their field of work to facilitate women’s careers and entrepreneurship. Organisations like Bigbasket, SBI Mutual, Indiamart, LendingKart, SpaceMatrix and more have joined our #ActionforWorkingWomen campaign.

We have also spoken to about to about 100 HR and hiring managers, women focussed career platforms and various experts to find out workable solutions.

Here are some interesting insights we have gathered, so far.

What working mothers (WMs) & stay-at-home mothers (SAHMs) feel and the choices they make

A career after motherhood is tough

60 percent women feel that being a mother makes it tougher to advance their careers, although more than half working women report having professional achievements after becoming mothers.

The support system is key to choices moms make

45 percent women who are not working say they would love to work if they had someone to take care of their kids

50 percent working women report that they leave their kids with their mothers or mothers-in-law,

Only 10 percent of mothers report using after-school day-care services.

Role of technology

70 percent mothers feel that technology makes their lives easier by helping them multitask, find resources and manage time

65 percent mothers have e-commerce apps, 15 percent have apps for grocery shopping and more than half have cab-hailing apps installed on their mobile phones

Nearly 50 percent mothers also reported having some parenting forum or pregnancy tracker app

Only 25 percent women report using professional networking or job search apps.

Maternity break is not always enough      

WMs report taking about 3-6 months maternity leave.

40 percent of women say they went back to their pre-maternity jobs, while about 25 percent took longer sabbaticals or quit temporarily for a year or two.

Most WMs say they are happy with the recent Government policy move to extend paid maternity leave from 3 months to 6.5 months.

35 percent of new mothers are sure that they will definitely join back work after the 6-month maternity leave

Returning to work after breaks is tough

Most SAHMs say that the biggest challenge in getting back to work is finding jobs that provide them flexibility to manage demands of the family as well.

45 percent of them are open to finding “work-from-home” jobs

10 percent of women who took a break from their formal jobs report having started a business and 15 percent started freelancing or working from home on part time work.

 The top 5 things that working and stay-at-home mothers want

We asked mothers what changes would make their lives easier, and what the Government and businesses can do more to help them achieve their aspirations. And then we assessed the status of these demands to gauge the likelihood of these being met.

Here’s what we found:

65 percent mothers want affordable day-cares close to workplace

Many large firms (34 percent of the 100 Best Companies for women) already provide onsite day care services for employee’s children.

More companies are expected to do so once the provisions of The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act of 2016 are implemented, requiring establishments with 50 or more employees to have a creche facility. The Central Government is also finalising a draft National programme for crèche and day care facilities, which has proposed that crèche facilities for six months - six years, children be no more than 1.5 km from home or the workplace of the mother.

If these policies and programmes are able to overcome their challenges and get implemented, then there is a likelihood that this desire of working mothers could turn into reality sometime in the near future.

Sixty percent mothers desire alternatives to fulltime work like freelance/work-from-home opportunities, 25 percent would like to start a business.

Freelancing and working from home is a good solution for mothers. But finding work and earning money from the work-from-home model is challenging. According to a recent PayPal report India is the world’s largest freelancer market but most Indian freelancers are men under 40. However, emergence of women-focussed career platforms are now proving useful in helping women find work-from-home opportunities and are enabling more companies to have remote teams.

Mompreneurship” is also a trend that’s gaining ground. Many of these businesses cater directly to women (like in fashion, food, child-care products) but many are also technology oriented and broader in focus. The problem here is that most women with ideas don’t know how to go about taking the first steps. And finding capital to scale a business is extremely tough for women (in 2017, only 2 percent of all funded start-ups were founded by women).

More than 50 percent WMs say they want workplaces to become truly empathetic towards working mothers and pregnant women.

Many companies are already striving to become women-friendly and trying to remove gender biases. The top 100 companies listed in the Working Mother & AVTAR Best Companies for Women in India (BCWI) have reportedly taken measures to provide flexible work arrangements and to have formal phase-back programmes to help young mothers returning after a career break.

In the same light, under our #ActionforWorkingWomen campaign, Indiamart pledged to make more opportunities for women re-starters, Invecas promised to make the process of assimilation into work life joyous for new mothers returning after maternity leave and Moglix will empower more mothers to join their team that’s already led by four super-moms. Design firm, Space Matrix pledged to increase the proportion of women in their leadership team from the current 10 percent to 25 percent by 2020. Daycare chain, Kara4Kids reiterated their pledge to ensure that their day-cares cater to professional women’s needs by creating a homely-environment to look after kids right from 6 months old and up to 7.30 pm in the evening. More such pledges can be found here.

All of this shows that there is hope for women looking for friendlier workplaces.

But there is also a chance that many employers could get put off by the high costs of retaining women (like costs of providing 26 weeks of salary for women on maternity leaves). For instance, nearly 50 percent of HR managers we asked said that they feel small and medium size companies may stop hiring women to avoid paying six months maternity leave.

Forty-five percent mothers want provision of paternity leave and flexible working hours for men as well

Ninety-four percent of the 100 Best Companies for women provide a fully-paid paternity leave (averaging 12 days). But the government has not yet mandated a provision of paternity leave. We feel that having a government policy of mandatory paternity leave or even a family leave policy is important because it can trigger a mindset change in society that continues to believe that family responsibilities are entirely for the women.

Forty-five percent mothers say they like to see more women at the highest levels of management as it creates a friendlier and more understanding culture towards women

Of late, there is a significant buzz about the need for and benefits of creating more women leaders, especially after the policy requirement made it mandatory to have at least one woman on the Board for all listed and public-sector companies.

But how to make more women reach the pinnacle and break the “glass ceiling” continues to be a challenge. Ipsita Kathuria, CEO, Talentnomics India, feels that women’s own reluctance to network, take risks and ask for what they feel they deserve, combined with the perception that they are not decisive and lack the drive needed for leadership roles, prove to be barriers for their career progression.

According to Bhavna Dalal, Founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners, “Women ready for people manager roles must learn to get comfortable with self-promotion, advancing their network, negotiating and asking for what they need. Companies on their part need to groom these women in strategic and financial expertise and help them fully understand where the organisation is going, what its targets are and their role in taking the business there”.

So, what does this all show?

We feel that although a lot of effort is being put into helping women make progress in their careers, what they really is need for everything to fall into place!

This can be achieved by (1) coordinating and stringing together measures taken by government, businesses and career enablers, (2) giving priority to addressing the biggest challenges mothers face, and (3) designing solutions that can be implemented at scale so that the impact can reach all women across the country.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)