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Why Are So Many Moms Out of Work?

kate_sept2004 / Getty Images
kate_sept2004 / Getty Images

Where are the working moms in the labor force? In GOBankingRates’ 2023 Women & Money survey, 42% of the moms surveyed said they do not work.

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How does this break down on an age basis? While 75% of women who are age 65 and older and are parents said they did not work, this may be less about the concept of being out of work and more about entering into their retirement years. However, 37% of mothers between the ages 35 to 44 said they do not work along with 28% of mothers between ages 25 to 34.

What are the primary reasons keeping moms out of the labor force? What would it take to inspire women, especially moms, to return to the workforce? Here’s why so many moms are out of work.

Why Moms Left the Workforce

The Working Moms Report by Breezy HR and Après Group takes us back to 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, as many as one-in-three working moms with children said they were considering downscaling their careers or leaving the workforce entirely. A year later in 2021 during “The Great Resignation,” 4.4 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs.

The center of the mass exit, according to the report, were working moms with young children. Certain hurdles, including the following, significantly impact working mothers.

Lack of Affordable Child Care

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it was brought to light that working moms struggle with household chore and child care responsibility imbalances. Another significant pain point for working moms is finding affordable, available child care.

Certified career coach Jamie Terran said the average salary of a woman in the U.S. is $25,307. The average cost of child care is about $12,000 a year for daycare. Terran said this means the after-tax income of a woman’s salary with one child making and paying the average may lead to a net loss.

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Lack of Workplace Flexibility

Another contributing factor for moms with young children who exit the workforce is inflexible work schedules.

“This salary to daycare mismatch combined with the lack of flexibility at work is one of the biggest challenges of being a working mom,” said Terran. “If an individual can manage to find affordable or even unaffordable child care, they will inevitably get sick and need to take additional time off to care for their children, or pay for additional care.”

The Working Moms Report also noted the Motherhood Penalty continues in many organizations and companies. Women, particularly working moms, who request flexible work hours to meet the needs of their family are often punished for it. They may be less likely to receive a promotion, demoted or given low-level assignments.

Struggles To Advance, Both at Work and Out of Work

The Working Moms Report cites a 2019 study of working mothers versus all other women. In 2019, 75% of working moms wanted a promotion and 58% wanted to be managers. 35% of working moms hoped they could become the top manager, showing working mothers have historically always been invested in career advancement opportunities.

The ability for working moms to advance in their careers becomes all the more difficult when a mom leaves the workforce. Terran said women may need to gain more education (which is expensive) or take additional financial losses when getting started again in their career.

How To Bring Women Back To The Workforce

In a tight labor market, Tami Simon, corporate consulting leader and SVP at Segal, said employers need to look at ways to inspire women to return to the workforce. Here’s what can be done to bring women back to work.

Welcome Women Back

It is critical for employers to address the national caregiver crisis and how these responsibilities often fall on women. Employers, Simon said, can work to create alternative child care arrangements, offer diverse shift options and set up employees so two people can share a single role on alternating days.

Progressive companies may even compress work into longer days in a four-day workweek, which is rapidly taking off across the United Kingdom and may start trending in the United States.

Provide a Flexible, Supportive Work Environment

Companies have an opportunity to mitigate one of the greatest pain points for working moms — lack of schedule flexibility — by creating a flexible work environment.

“Cutting-edge employers are granting employees extra personal days to deal with life as issues arise so staff can come back to work more productively,” said Simon.

Additionally, companies may be able to turn workplaces into communities by establishing support groups. These groups allow working moms to share caregiving and other experiences with colleagues to help employees feel less alone.

Create an Employee Slush Fund

“Offer subsidies to show you support employees’ needs, whether it is for an aide, nanny or daycare. Or give out Taskrabbit gift cards so employees can be freed up to get work done,” said Simon.

Organizations that may not be able to offer these subsidies may be able to remind employees what their companies already offer. Simon uses the example of sharing an overview of the company PTO policy and the Employee Assistance Program benefits regarding care coordination, home healthcare services and legal assistance, along with communicating Family & Medical Leave Act rights.

Analyze Workforce Analytics

Bringing moms back to the workforce isn’t meant to be done in a manner that checks off an imaginary box to prove a business is hiring and retaining working moms.

“Review workforce attrition patterns as decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. Look across pay scale, years of service, by manager, role, geography and internal mobility. Speak with team leaders with a high retention rate and find out what they’re doing right,” Simon recommends.

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Why Are So Many Moms Out of Work?