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Hey, employers – here’s what mothers in the workplace really need


Ahem. 

A raise, and a place to nap during lunch breaks. 

There we go, article over. Thank you for reading.

No? Okay, our Content Manager is shaking her head. I can’t leave it at that. And yeah, I suppose I do know that there’s much more to supporting mothers in the workplace. (As nice as naps are.)

Stepping back into the office (IRL or at home) after creating human life can be super jarring, weird, wonderful, woeful, and downright chaotic. There are lots of articles and resources out there for parents (especially mothers) returning to work, about things YOU can do to make it work. (Take a look at our community’s advice for returning to work post-baby.) 

But I think a lot of it comes down to what workplaces do to help.

So, employers: we’re asking for your help. A piddly broom cupboard reserved for our expressing needs isn’t quite enough support for brand new parents. Here’s what we really need – and why help for mothers returning to work actually helps everyone in the end.

Why we need to support mothers in the workplace

Because society rests on mothers

It actually does. 

When mums stop making babies, humanity ceases to exist. There are ways for women to get pregnant without having sex with a man, but there’s no way for a man to have a child without a woman’s involvement. (Just saying.) So mums are kind of a big deal. We need to take care of them, and that involves supporting their career goals. 

Because believe it or not, companies actually benefit from accommodating mothers in the workplace.

Diversity boosts the bottom line

Women from all walks of life bring unique perspectives to workplaces. And research from McKinsey & Company shows that companies with diverse executive teams actually outperform homogeneous teams (aka all white guys).

I’ll tell you now, mums have seen some serious sh*t. Workplaces benefit from their resourcefulness and resilience in the face of challenges. (Case in point: Have you seen a mother change a baby in the back seat of a car, one-handed, while holding a latte? Incredible stuff.) 

Without mums, workplaces are just not as good.

Mothers have skills childless people don’t have

Like being able to smash out a stakeholder presentation on 2 hours’ sleep. And treating disgruntled customers with the same level of empathy and understanding they apply to their tantruming toddler

They don’t teach this stuff in university!

We can never bridge the gender pay gap without this support 

The ‘motherhood penalty’ is a brutal thing. Studies show that mothers’ salaries drop when they start a family, whereas fathers’ either stay the same, or have the audacity to actually INCREASE. It’s wildly unfair.

Things are getting better, but women still need support from employers to re-enter the workforce if we’re ever going to really turn this thing around.

Because their lives are a sh*tshow

Any decent human would offer support if they knew what really goes on behind the scenes. But we often don’t stop to consider the details of life with a baby. 

We’re talking interrupted sleep, a constantly messy house, endless piles of laundry, relentless daycare sickness, the inability to go to the toilet without a child screaming for you behind the door. Sh*t. Show.

All the more reason to support mothers returning to work.

Because mothers are wildly ambitious, and our careers matter!

Research shows that mothers are more ambitious at work than their childless counterparts. Yes, MORE.

Perhaps part of it is because the work of birthing a baby makes usual work seem like a luxurious holiday in the Bahamas. Maybe it’s because motherhood forces us to reach deep inside ourselves for reserves of energy and creativity we didn’t even know we had. We have so much to give, and many of us are willing to give it to our work.

Whatever it is, employers would be wise to offer extra help for mothers returning to work.

*mic drop*

What employers can do to support mothers returning to work

I’m going to break this down into ‘levels’ of how to support working mothers in the workplace. See where you/your workplace lands.

Level 1: Bare Minimum

  • Provide a space to express – This is required by law to support breastfeeding mums. A private and safe space must be offered, and breast milk storage needs to be allowed too.

  • Create opportunities for new parents to connect – Whether it’s establishing an employee support group for new parents, or simply introducing bleary-eyed new mothers and fathers to other parents at the company, this is a wonderful way to nurture your parent tribe.

  • Circulate transparent parental policies – It can be so terrifying for new mums to broach the subject of parental leave and flexible work arrangements. It shouldn’t be terrifying (we don’t need to tell YOU that discrimination isn’t cool!) – but it is. Get ahead of the discussion by making your parental policies blatantly known and easily accessible.

  • Give us a break – Keep in mind, that mum who doesn’t seem keen to stay back half an hour for a late meeting may have had her vagina torn open just a few short months ago. She might still be in pain, emotionally depleted, physically healing, and working out who she even is as a person now. The postpartum period is brutal. Be kind. Please.

Level 2: Better

  • Give them EAP access – If you’re not sure what that stands for, it’s the Employee Assistance Program. It’s an external, unbiased counselling service that employers can offer to help their employees deal with both personal and work-related issues. This service can be a game-changer for working parents struggling to adjust to life with a baby. And it can boost their performance at work as a result. (Win-win.)

  • Give them career opportunities – Don’t make the assumption that mums aren’t interested in career development anymore. Support mothers returning to work by allowing them to maintain their career trajectory. Think: mentorship programs, training and development, and challenging new projects!

  • Make work a safe space – OH&S is important, obvs, but here we’re talking about an ‘emotionally safe space’. Home life with a newborn can be filled with stress, sleepless nights and loneliness. Focus on making your workplace culture safe and comfortable for new parents – and that means letting it slide if they don’t want to go out for drinks on Friday night. But also not assuming they won’t want to.

  • Don’t make ‘mum’ their new identity – As exciting as a new baby is, it’s actually sometimes nice to be ‘yourself again’ when you rock up at work without one on your hip. And to not talk about naps and nappies for a full eight hours. Please, make an effort to ask new mums about things other than the baby. Thnx.

Level 3: Gold Standard

  • Promote them – WHAT??! But they’ve just taken a maternity break and don’t know what’s up! Ludicrous. First of all, maternity leave is not a break. Please understand that. Secondly, this point is more around not passing over new mothers when there are opportunities going. If a new mama is the best person for the job, get that lady in there!

  • Give them autonomy over their hours – Flexible working styles are a godsend for new parents dealing with unpredictable babies. I cannot tell you the amount of times they will prep the daycare bag, dress the baby, pack a lunch, get in the car, and then be faced with a poopsplosion that’ll set them back 15 minutes. Just trust that a new parent will get their work done, even if they show up late sometimes, or need to take extra parental leave days because daycare sickness is endless. You take care of them, they’ll take care of you, etc. etc.

  • Let them take lunchtime naps – I’m not kidding about this. We’re tired! Please!

Don’t forget fathers/co-parents!

We can’t have the discussion about supporting mothers in the workplace without also talking about support that fathers/partners/co-parents need as well. It’s fair to say that birth mothers often pick up a bulk of the childcare duties (not always!), but having a baby puts extra demands on the other parent too.

New fathers need support from employers in the form of understanding, flexible work arrangements… and EAP access wouldn’t go astray for stressed out dads too.

Now. One final thing that should apply to all employers welcoming new parents back to work…

Just ask what they need

Simple, right? Maybe reducing an employee’s hours isn’t what they need. Maybe having the EAP forced down their throats is more annoying than useful. The best thing an employer can do is invite the employee into their office/Zoom meeting room for a confidential chat about what support they need. (If you do this, we think you’re awesome!)

And because we LOVE to practise what we preach, we asked our Mumli community what helped them when they returned to work. (**Ideas for HR**) Here’s what they came up with:

  • “The option to have flexible hours and also reduced hours as you return, increasing as you feel ready.”
  • “A private room to pump in. Chair with footrest, diffuser, curtains, lamp.”
  • “A voucher for Dinner Ladies. It saved my sanity not to cook when sleep deprived!”
  • “A casual contract that better suited our new life, after I resigned from my role.”
  • “I got given a bag of my favourite skincare – which was minimal effort, but still cool.”
  • “I have ongoing counselling sessions at work to help me talk through the transition.”

It’s all well and good for us to plea for help for mothers returning to work like this, but what can a mama do with it all? Great question.

This is for the mums:

Advocate. For. Yourself. 

You’re more than entitled to ask for what you need when returning to work. Use the information and suggestions we’ve listed here to start meaningful conversations with your employer. If it doesn’t go anywhere, eh! You tried. But you speaking up could spark a wave of change in your workplace, and we need more of that around here!


Read more about returning to work on Mumli.


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