Skip to main content

Columbia Business Monthly

The time has come to stop using the term ‘working mother’

By Dr. LaNae’ Budden 

For women, working outside the home has always been limited, and those external responsibilities have always come secondary to familial responsibilities. The challenges women face managing work, family, the cost of raising children, and maintaining the domestic sphere has caused many women to work part-time, low-paying jobs. These factors help increase the gender wage gap and perpetuate inequities in the workforce. 

So, why are women less likely to hold full-time jobs or leadership roles at various companies? 

Young women are delaying building families because they want careers, stability, and independence. It is difficult for women to maintain a career, keep stability, and have independence when they are essentially working two shifts. 

Women who do have careers end up pulling what is now considered a “second shift” when they get home. It is a mad rush to make dinner and feed the family, help with homework, get the children ready for bed, straighten up the house, and connect with her partner. There are never enough hours in the day, and in the end women cannot sustain this model. 

Women have been told for the last decade they can have it all—a family and a career—but culturally, we have not supported this idea. The expectation for women is to work in the home—raising children, cleaning and maintaining the house, cooking, etc. When women began to work outside the home, the cultural expectation never changed; responsibilities were simply added in addition to what was already there. 

What steps can we take to start to change those cultural expectations?

The first step would be to stop calling mothers who work outside the home “working mothers.” Culturally, we do not refer to fathers who work as “working fathers,” so why have a special name for mothers? 

When we name things as a culture, it associates a specific identity. The term working mother associates that identity of mother and indicates that identity is primary. Women who are mothers have the ability to be other things—president, CEO, business owner, scientist, etc.—but when they are referred to as working mothers, limits are imposed. 

Next, employers can explore allowing flexible hours. 

Technology plays a vital role in today’s society, but it also gives us the ability to stay connected even outside the office. Women who hold the dual role of mother and career woman are no less dedicated than women without children or men. They simply have a life outside of work that creates additional demands of their time. 

With flexible hours, women would stop feeling judged for running late after their child had a morning meltdown, or for leaving at 5 p.m. to pick up the children from daycare, or for needing multiple breaks throughout the day to pump breast milk. 

Allowing employees to work flexible hours to accommodate for family life is beneficial in the long run, not just for the employee, but the business. It creates an environment of support and trust. Employees will feel a sense of belonging, and productivity and morale will increase, creating the long-term retention of employees. 

It is well known and well documented that a gender-diverse corporation will thrive versus a corporation that is male-dominant. Men and women bring different assets to a work environment and leveraging those assets creates a strong, healthy, productive corporation—one that builds more organizational dedication, fosters more job satisfaction, and increases employee engagement and retention. 

The ability women have to use broad-based problem-solving skills, to multitask, and to use the part of the brain that excels at memory allows women to bring new and innovative ideas to the table. While men are more task-focused and prone to isolating issues and thinking on more linear lines, the juxtaposition between men and women leverages the strengths of both genders, creating a harmonious and well-rounded business. 

Creating a more inclusive environment for women who want careers but also happen to be mothers should be a goal all businesses are striving toward. The importance of men and women in the workforce is clear, but neither should have to choose between family and career. 

Is your business inclusive?