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Columbia Business Monthly

A Resolution for Working Mothers

Jan 09, 2024 11:17AM ● By Jamie Prince

The phone rings. Your child has a fever, must be picked up ASAP, and cannot return to school until she’s fever-free for 24 hours, which means she has to stay home the next day. The next morning, your pediatrician’s office has a two-hour wait, which is common for flu season.

By the time you’ve seen the doctor, visited the pharmacy, and dropped your child off with a family member, neighbor or friend, you arrive at the office after 11 a.m. and forfeit half a PTO day. You fear your commitment to your work is at risk of appearing less than your peers and, as the year passes, you experience guilt for taking PTO for the very reason it exists. Vacations get shorter, guilt spans stretch longer, and anxiety is ever present.

In October 2023, Catalyst released results of its survey of working women, finding that 67 percent of them are concerned their child care responsibilities will negatively affect their career. The following month, South Carolina’s Chamber of Commerce released a report finding that the lack of child care is having a negative economic impact on our state of $1.4 billion.

Magnify this crisis by our portion of the 800,000 women nationwide who left their jobs during the pandemic due to child care issues and, as a result, have been set back in their career 5+ years, as reported by Harvard Business Review.

Let’s call this what it is: a crisis. But let’s make it a wake-up call. What if we stopped to reflect on how all of this impacts our teams, our companies? What would happen if then we stepped forward with willingness to be part of the solution?

Prior to starting my PR firm 2009, I worked in a highly traditional corporate environment in which I was one of two women on 50+ member senior management team, and the only woman with a child. That experience both led me to leave the company and go out on my own and, as my nearly all-female team expanded, reinforced my decision to be more accommodating for the normalcies of life that we all experience, including responsibilities of women and mothers.

Fortunately for me, I began my career in a billion-dollar, publicly traded company started by a mother and run by a leadership team 85 percent of whom were women (and the majority of those, also mothers). As a young 20-something, I had no idea that my workplace was so far ahead of its time. Everyone enjoyed PTO because each of us had a separate bank of sick and personal (read: mental health) days.

It wasn’t odd that the company’s senior leaders hosted breakfast meetings in their homes or participated in company life while simultaneously tending to other, equally pressing matters. The founder of the company remembered not only team members’ names but – can you imagine? – their family’s names, too, and where their kids attended school. Gifts of appreciation were given with enthusiasm and tailored to the receiver’s personality and passions.

Many of us in leadership positions need to remember that when the responsibilities and needs of women are accepted, normalized, and integrated into our companies’ policies and practices, the message to current and prospective female team members is this: You matter. And when women believe they matter, you would be hard pressed to find more loyal, hard-working team members.

Resolve this year to assess where your business stands – and what it stands to lose – in its treatment of the women and mothers you employ. There’s not one way to “do something about this,” but I offer a few suggestions as thought-starters.

Reflect on how you personally feel about these issues. Ask yourself why you harbor the beliefs you have and what impacts your beliefs may have had, intentionally and unintentionally, on your company. Until you self-assess, the assessment of your company’s culture will be incomplete at best.

Involve your team. Find out what’s most challenging for them (inside and outside of work) and invite them to solution-storm with you. Depending on the size of your business, this could happen via surveying, town hall meetings, live online chats, or focus groups.

Communicate clearly, honestly, and regularly to your team. If in reality the most viable solutions may take years, instead of months, to implement fully, explain that to them. If you hit a snag or something pressing arises that must take priority temporarily, acknowledge it.

Celebrate evolvement. Show your team – and customers, clients, and vendor partners – that despite the inevitable growing pains, this is an exciting time for your company and that your team is worth it.

Track and analyze the performance of the new ways you’re operating, as you would any other initiative, and continually tweak it as needed.

All of us start a new year with big goals, and many times, our enthusiasm for doing what it takes to reach those goals fizzles as the weeks pass. Let this, then, not be a goal. Let it be something that we begin and, as we continue, becomes a habit which, with time, leads to a stronger, happier – and ultimately more loyal – team. Then, watch as your company prospers.

Jamie Prince owns Flourish, an award-winning PR and events firm, and Merry Everything, a gift shop re-imagined. She is a fourth-generation Greenvillian and comes from a long family line of entrepreneurs.