If there’s one good thing to come out of the pandemic, it’s the recognition of mothers for their unpaid labor. But the question remains: will that recognition lead to action?
A recent report addresses that issue, along with questions around moms who start their own businesses. According to an analysis released by the Kauffman Foundation, a Missouri-based nonprofit committed to education around entrepreneurship, mothers who start their own ventures face as many barriers as employees “when it comes to combining caregiving and household responsibilities with paid work.”
According to the report, which notes that 1 in 4 moms are the sole providers of their households, “self-employed women report spending more time, on average, on child care activities and less time in paid work compared not only to self-employed men, but also to employed women and men.”
Jessica Looze, co-author of the report, said something needs to give.
“Mothers make important economic contributions to their families and to the economy,” Looze wrote in an email. “We need to start taking action on what we know mothers need in order to successfully combine paid work with caregiving — access to paid leave, affordable and high-quality child care, and flexible schedules.”
During the pandemic, women were the hardest-hit group economically. Between February and April 2020, 4.2 million women left the labor force, many due to their roles as caregivers. As of last month, nearly half still have not returned to work.
The drumbeat for change has been slow but steady. Earlier this year, Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, released a “Marshall Plan for Moms,” demanding a basic income for all mothers and new work-family policies so unemployed moms can make their way back to work.
And employers around the country are realizing the benefits of flexible work hours and policies. At the EGC Group, an advertising agency in Long Island, New York, that is committed to hiring women and mothers, surveys go out monthly to gauge morale and employees are offered a fully remote or hybrid option.
“Covid changed everything for us,” said Nicole Penn, president of the 70-employee agency, which counts Canon, Edible Arrangements and Supercuts as clients.
“Our working parents and especially our moms, our single moms, know that they have all the flexibility in the world,” she added. “And that’s not just to work from home … we [also] encourage parents to block personal time in their calendars — they don’t have to sneak out — because this is our new life.”
Traditionally, employees tend to be rewarded for working more hours and promoted after years of gaining experience. “I grew up in advertising, and there was a mantra of ‘first at your desk, last to leave,’” said Penn, who is also a mom. “And that was a measure of your productivity.”
But both of these factors contribute to what the Kauffman Foundation report calls the “motherhood wage penalty,” since mothers typically work fewer hours and have to take time off following the birth or adoption of children, leading to missed career opportunities.
Motherhood plays a significant role in guiding career choices. According to the report,
57% of mothers surveyed cited choosing entrepreneurship as a means for independence and control over their lives.
“Some are looking for the autonomy and flexibility that entrepreneurship can provide,” said Looze. “Some have an idea or innovation that they want to bring to the market and scale.”
But while entrepreneurship gives mothers the liberty of choosing hours and juggling
responsibilities, running a business requires time and attentiveness that becomes extremely difficult — especially when a pandemic leads to daycare and school closures.
Although work-family policies are not traditionally considered entrepreneurship policies, Looze said, people should start thinking about both as being intertwined. Employers who enact policies such as affordable daycare and lighter schedules may actually lead mothers to choose entrepreneurship out of want rather than necessity.
“What’s important is that supports are in place to ensure that mothers who want to engage in wage or salary work are able to do so, and that mothers who want to start their own business have the opportunity to do so, as well as the supports they need along the way,” Looze said.
“Covid has made the many demands on mothers’ time and energy all the more visible, and it’s clear that greater support is needed for mothers and families more broadly.”