Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Here's how companies can support new mothers, bolster gender equity and perform better

The global gender pay gap is being perpetuated by, among other factors, discrimination against new mothers. To close the gap, new mothers must be part of the gender equity conversation.

The global gender pay gap is being perpetuated by, among other factors, discrimination against new mothers. To close the gap, new mothers must be part of the gender equity conversation. Image: Getty Images

Bincheng Mao
Global Shaper, New York Hub, New York Hub
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Society and Equity

This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions

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Have you read?
    • The global gender pay gap currently sits at 23%.
    • Closing that gap is not simple — and any work in that direction must account for the role that the treatment of new mothers plays in perpetuating it.
    • Helping new mothers, boosting gendr equity and closing the gender pay gap could provide a global GDP boost of $7 trillion a year.

    Working mothers often make enormous sacrifices both in their personal and professional lives. It is not unusual for new mothers to drop out of the workforce entirely following childbirth.

    At a stage when their careers would typically be accelerating, new mothers could find themselves navigating the intricate demands of caring for their infants while fulfilling their duties at work.

    The absence of sufficient support for new mothers has far-reaching consequences. The “motherhood penalty" is a significant contributor to the persistent global gender pay gap — currently at 23% — and the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles globally.

    Have you read?

    Providing robust support for new mothers can be a powerful catalyst for economic prosperity. There is immense economic potential in reducing gender disparities and helping gender equity in the labor market. If we can bridge the gap between women’s and men’s workforce participation levels, research shows that global GDP would increase by at least $7 trillion each year.

    Rather than framing motherhood and career as mutually exclusive, we must acknowledge them as intertwined. New mothers deserve society’s understanding, not judgment or marginalisation. With the right policies and social infrastructure in place, women in the workplace can realize their full potential and contribute to the economy before, during and after becoming mothers. Both business and government have critical roles to play in making that possible through family-friendly policies and a commitment to equal opportunity.

    Flexible work arrangements

    Flexible work options like remote work, part-time schedules, job-sharing and adjustable hours are crucial for empowering new mothers to stay in the workforce while promoting gender equity. These alternatives harmonise work and family life, save commuting time, meet children’s needs and ease the transition back to full-time work. By offering these choices, companies create inclusive environments that genuinely support working parents. The results are improved work-life balance, higher job satisfaction, increased productivity and lower turnover.

    Flexible hours are especially important for new mothers to handle time-sensitive duties like doctors’ visits and childcare without jeopardising their jobs. This flexibility allows women to continue their careers without becoming overwhelmed by work and family demands. Additionally, flexible policies help change perceptions that childcare is primarily a woman’s responsibility, challenging outdated gender roles and expectations. By adopting these best practices, employers can cultivate inclusive workplaces that address new mothers’ unique challenges. Doing so moves us closer to a fair and caring society — and it makes good sense for business.

    Global Gender Gap Report 2023
    Global Gender Gap Report 2023 Image: World Economic Forum

    Cultivating inclusive workplaces

    Empowering working mothers requires fostering gender-inclusive workplaces with equal career advancement opportunities for all. Implementing gender-balanced hiring and promotion processes in major institutions can provide women with fair chances for work and leadership roles.

    In practice, companies and organizations can employ blind recruitment, removing identifying information such as names, gender and age from the application process. By doing so, companies can reduce the potential for unconscious bias during the initial screening process. Organizations can also introduce diverse interview panels. Assembling a group of interviewers that includes individuals of different genders, backgrounds and experiences can help to mitigate potential biases in candidate evaluations. Finally, institutions can also release inclusive job advertisements. Crafting job advertisements with gender-neutral language and highlighting commitments to gender equity can make more women feel welcome.

    It is also crucial to establish a robust mechanism to offer timely remedies and support for women who encounter discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Such experiences can pose significant barriers to their success and impede their ability to fully thrive in their chosen careers.

    Promoting female professional role models

    Sometimes it is the prevailing cultural attitudes that deter women from re-entering the workforce following childbirth. Women sometimes experience considerable pressure from family and community members to place their domestic responsibilities above their professional aspirations. Shifting these cultural perspectives towards a more supportive stance on working mothers is an essential step in empowering women in their careers.

    One effective approach to fostering this change is to actively promote role models who exemplify the successful balance between motherhood and professional life. By highlighting these figures, we can demonstrate that women are fully capable of excelling in their careers post-pregnancy, inspiring others to follow suit. In addition, emphasising the economic benefits of women's full participation in the workforce can further contribute to changing societal attitudes. By showcasing the positive impact of working mothers on economic growth and development, we can encourage greater support for their professional endeavors.


    What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

    Affordable childcare for gender equity

    Incorporating accessible and affordable childcare systems into the broader social framework helps to level the playing field for working mothers. When high-quality childcare is available and affordable, working mothers can pursue employment opportunities that match their skills, education and experience. This helps to narrow the gender pay gap and enables women to achieve their full economic potential.

    Major companies have already set the stage by prioritising employee well-being through the establishment of on-site gyms, cafeterias and other amenities. This commitment to fostering a supportive work atmosphere serves as an inspiration for the integration of childcare facilities within the workplace. By constructing dedicated childcare spaces and engaging skilled caregivers, companies can offer an invaluable service to their employees, significantly reducing the stress and financial strain associated with securing childcare. Consequently, new mothers can confidently pursue their careers, reassured by the knowledge that their children are well-cared for, ultimately bolstering the case for accessible and affordable childcare systems as a cornerstone of advocacy for working women.

    Through empathy and understanding, we can establish an environment in which women feel encouraged and equipped to remain active in the workforce before, during and after becoming mothers. By fostering an inclusive environment that recognises the unique needs and contributions of women, especially new mothers, we are able to create a more vibrant and robust society.

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