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Opinion: Working moms have it harder at work and at home


Motherhood and the workplace have long been in conflict. The COVID-19 pandemic created a perfect storm, with anti-mother bias becoming more evident and the pressure to be the best worker and mother colliding.  

Last year was one of the toughest years that I’ve experienced as a mom. Like other working moms, I balanced working from home with a then-9-year-old who was still getting used to virtual learning. I was also pregnant with my second child and experiencing 24-hour-a-day sickness and lethargy. On top of that, I was also carrying a secret: Fourteen weeks into my pregnancy, in the midst of a pandemic, I was knocked off my feet with a breast cancer diagnosis. 

The pressure mounted, and I struggled to be the perfect mom and employee. I worked even harder to make sure that my health issues didn’t affect my work, as I didn’t want to fall prey to the stereotype of working moms not “holding their own” in the workplace. Fresh off maternity leave, I began radiation treatment — every day for an entire month. With two children that needed my constant care (one an infant) and a demanding full-time job, the pressure to be perfect was even more pronounced.  

Would I be forced to choose between motherhood, my health and my career? With Mother’s Day now behind us, we should all ask how to better support working mothers.  

It sounds straightforward, but mothers are still struggling at home and in the office. Both our survey data and my own experiences — and those of my friends and family as well as other working moms I know — are clear: Working moms receive less support and experience more hostility at the office, compared to colleagues who aren’t caring for kids. And they head back home to disproportionate workloads.

According to The Harris Poll, an overwhelming majority of working mothers with young children (under 10) have experienced gender-related discrimination and micro-aggressions at the office, both from other women (47%) and from men (41%). 

On a positive note, the majority of working mothers with young children (64%) say that they have received encouragement from a female colleague in the workplace, though a smaller percentage (55%) have received similar encouragement from a male co-worker. On the flip side, nearly 70% of working fathers have received support from a female colleague, and the same number say the same for a fellow man.

Our society, intentionally or not, still punishes women for being mothers and professionals. The numbers don’t lie: While nearly 1 in 3 working adults (31%) say that their personal obligations have hurt their careers, that figure jumps to 46% for working mothers with young children (as compared to 40% of working dads with young kids). 

Unfortunately, we get little respite at home. About half of both working moms and dads with young kids feel that they take primary responsibility for child care decisions (54% and 53%, respectively). However, most working moms with young children (60%) say that they take primary responsibility for household chores, versus 42% of working dads. And working dads are more likely than working moms to say that these responsibilities are shared (44% versus 36%). I am grateful to my husband for sharing in household responsibilities, but let’s face it, much of the “mental load” of household management falls on me.  

Change begins at home — so let’s start there. Realistically assess the division of at-home work, whether it’s childcare, cooking or other housekeeping. Ask your partner what more you can do and then act. If the extra work seems onerous, remind yourself that this is how it feels for a woman doing it all along. Putting yourself in her shoes may give you a new perspective — renewed communication that deepens your relationship with your partner or creates more time to spend with the kids. 

Let’s take it another step too. Look around your office and ask yourself what more you can do to support female colleagues with children. It may be as simple as refraining from sending an email at 8 p.m., so moms don’t feel compelled to respond while putting their children to bed. 

If you are a business leader, ask yourself: What measures have I put in place to make mothers feel more accepted? What have I done to alleviate bias? How can you create better boundaries between work and personal time for caregiving or simply to replenish mentally? How is a corporate culture being fostered to prevent moms from feeling like they must choose between work and motherhood?  

There’s more to rewarding mothers than cards, flowers and chocolate (although those are nice too). Instead, let’s start with a simple question: “How can I help?” 

Latoya Guishard Welch is vice president of research for public release at The Harris Poll. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.