Five things employers can do to create a work culture that’s working mother-friendly

Are you a business who wants to attract and retain female talent? Or a mother who’s looking for suggestions to present to your company? Here five things employers can do to create a work culture that’s working mother-friendly.

Even some of the most inclusive offices sometimes overlook what it takes to make their workplace culture friendlier to working mothers.

Business leaders and managers who aren’t mothers themselves may not recognise the things – big or small – that can make an employee who recently returned to the company after having a child feel uncomfortable or unsupported.

Companies that make investments in the right areas, think critically about when they schedule meetings, and understand the broader trends that affect the career paths of working moms will be ahead of the curve. Here are five actionable steps businesses can take to address their culture on behalf of mothers.

1) Institute a flexible work policy

More and more businesses are realising the benefits of a flexible work policy – allowing employees to occasionally work from home, or come and go from the office when their schedule calls for them to leave early. It lowers the cost of renting physical workspaces, turns time spent in commute gridlock into productive time, and attracts new talent.

It’s also incredibly helpful for working mothers whose children may have schedules that don’t align perfectly with that of the office. For mothers who need to leave early to pick up their children at daycare or school, or to attend important events, knowing that they can come and go outside the traditional 9-5 – while still getting all of their work done on their own schedule – can be a huge relief.

In order to make mothers (along with all your employees) feel comfortable working flexible hours, make flexibility a company policy rather than treating it as the occasional perk. Don’t force mothers to constantly ask to leave an hour early. Instead, establish their need for flexibility, ensure that they’re meeting goals, and go from there.

2) Schedule meetings within core business hours

Scheduling a regular meeting at the edges of ‘core’ working hours (again, assuming a 9-5) makes it more likely that parents won’t be able to show up.

Sometimes, a late meeting can’t be avoided—but whenever possible, schedule your most important meetings for the middle of the day, and don’t put mothers in the position of missing important updates on a regular basis, or having to hire a babysitter in order to attend.

3) Offer a Dependent Care FSA

A Flexible Spending Account is a special pre-tax account that employees can use for certain out-of-pocket expenses, such as healthcare costs. An FSA specifically for childcare is known as a Dependent Care FSA, or DCFSA.

Employees can put money into a DCFSA to help pay for preschool, before- or after-school programs, or child daycare (among other programs such as adult daycare or summer day camp).

At minimal cost to the employer, a working mother that uses a DCFSA can save an average of 30% on dependent care services, reduce their overall tax burden, and take advantage of convenient payment options.

4) Provide paid parental leave

Parental leave signals to your employees that you value them and want them to return the company after they give birth. Of course, in the United States, businesses are required to provide 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave if you have 50 or more employees. Smaller companies don’t have that requirement.

Keep in mind that in some countries, paid parental leave – both maternal and paternal – extends far beyond three months. In Iceland, for example, both parents can split nine months of post-child birth leave.

In the UK, both parents may be able to get Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) if you’re having a baby or adopting a child. This allows you to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between you.

It’s not always economically feasible for small businesses to provide paid leave, but whatever they can offer makes a huge different to new mothers.

Offering any sort of leave, plus the security of holding someone’s job for them until they return, shows your commitment to their well-being and is much more likely to engender loyalty which, as an aside, is a good investment for the company as well.

5) Mentorship and coaching programs

Around the world, a gender pay gap exists, and one of the biggest contributors is the fact that women sacrifice their career progress when having children.

Even in countries with generous parental leave, women’s earnings drop and their career trajectories slow, while men are mostly unaffected, after their first child.

Progressive companies have recognised this issue, and they offer mentorships, coaching programs, and workshops to women returning to the workforce to help them regain career momentum. Some of these programs last for two years after a woman returns from maternity leave, as they continue to balance the responsibilities of childcare and work.

Businesses that recognise the importance of keeping accomplished women in crucial positions will invest resources in helping them rise through the ranks—even as those women juggle responsibilities that men have failed to take on, even in more egalitarian societies.

A successful business is one that puts all its employees, regardless of their familial obligations, in a position to succeed.

There’s no doubt that making your workplace culture more accepting and accommodating of working mothers involves investment of time and resources, not to mention changing the way you think about certain ‘givens’ in your office. The payoff, however, of keeping – as well as attracting – well-qualified and dedicated women in your organisation is well worth it.

Meredith Wood is the Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business financial solutions. Specializing in financial advice for small business owners, Meredith is a current and past contributor to Yahoo!, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, SCORE, AllBusiness and more.

Photo by Andi Rizal