Bridging the Gender Gap for Women in the Workplace

First Person was honored to be a part of EDGE Mentoring’s Refuel + Recharge (R+R) Series in June. EDGE Mentoring does a great job here at our home base of Indianapolis. Not only do they connect young professionals with experienced leaders and facilitate meaningful conversations between them, they also present terrific learning opportunities such as this R + R series. It was my distinct pleasure to speak with Allison Robinson of The Mom Project.

The Genesis of The Mom Project

Before I recap our conversation, which you can view here, I’d like to introduce The Mom Project to the uninitiated. The Mom Project was founded in 2016 by our guest Allison Robinson. After the birth of her first child, Allison recognized the universal challenge of balancing the demands of motherhood with that of a full-time career. She knew there had to be a better way to help women stay engaged in the workforce on their own terms. Since launching The Mom Project, her talent community has grown to include over 400,000 women and 2,000 supporting companies. Companies supporting The Mom Project include Accenture, Google, Delta Airlines and Bank of America, just to name a few.

Allison was a fast-track professional, working for Procter & Gamble. As a lead on the Pampers Innovation team, she had the chance to enter the homes of moms for qualitative research. And she was inspired. She said, “those visits became about much more than diapers. I was inspired hearing the stories of these mothers – how they met all the demands of life, motherhood and, in many cases, work.” It was soon after that Allison got married, had a child and realized something big was going on relative to women and work.

“I read that 40% of women are leaving the American workforce after maternity,” said Allison. Allison felt some of the poor structures and policies of our workplaces were a big factor and she saw an opportunity to help. As she put it, she “had found her calling.” Using her data-driven approach honed at P&G, married with the support of a talented board, mentors and colleagues, Allison has led The Mom Project in the creation of over $200 Million in economic opportunity. “Our goal is to cross the $1 Billion threshold by connecting talented women with world-class employers that respect work and life integration.”

The Right Idea for the Time

The need for an initiative like The Mom Project was self-evident to Allison. She needed it. And believed in it. It turned out others did too. Allison said, “80% of women will be moms by the age of 44.” She uses that fact to illustrate the sheer size of this professional/mother cohort. A job marketplace that ignores or underutilizes moms does so at their own peril. Allison backs this last point up with lots of data. “We try to influence family leave policies and inclusivity into work structures in America. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s good ROI.”

The percentage of females as a portion of the labor force has been stagnant since 1999. And when the pandemic hit, there was a great exit. “It’s time to innovate,” said Allison. Federal policy, like universal pre-K, is a hoped-for type of outcome of a legislation push that can remove some of the barriers that keep moms out of the professional workforce. Allison reported there are signs of hope, noting that there has been a 350% increase in jobs that are full-time remote and an influx of more flexible, part-time opportunities.

I’ve seen that in some of the smaller companies I’ve worked with at First Person – companies are getting creative, using an empty office for on-site childcare for instance. They’re asking, ‘what are the things we can do to be more inclusive?’

Fluidity is Needed

“The job market penalizes non-linear career paths,” said Allison. She noted that women really need a way to “off-ramp” out of, and “on-ramp” into work. “Work has to be more fluid,” she said. The Mom Project is trying to change things – be it for a new mom trying to scale back a bit to take care of their child or a mom who needs the flexibility for some other reason. We want employers to meet them where they are. There is no perfect answer. I can agree. When I consult with clients on total rewards at First Person, I think about that total value proposition – what does an employee need and how can my employer meet her where she is at? We must describe opportunities in new ways.

This fluidity conversation transitioned neatly to the question of external pressure on moms, especially during the pandemic. Many moms felt acute economic, time and psychological strains during the past year. Allison and I talked about our “always on culture”, the strain that can cause during a pandemic – or even the best of times – and what women can do to prioritize mental health. In addition to traditional counseling, Allison’s tips for mental health: (1) Use technology – a text-app like Headspace is an extremely accessible resource. (2) Meditation. (3) Mindfulness.

“Many women spend an inordinate amount of time taking care of others – it’s important we prioritize ourselves, use that PTO when it is available and just block out time for ourselves.”

Looking to Rejoin the Job Market?

As Allison and I talked about this trend of moms exiting the workforce and its recent acceleration, our conversation turned toward the eventual or hoped-for future step for many moms – rejoining the workforce. Each woman’s situation is different, so we talked about strategies that could work broadly for most women. Allison offered these pieces of advice for women as they ‘dial down’ and ‘dial up’ their participation in the job market:

  • Keep a foot in the door by working in a limited capacity, even five to 10 hours a week. We know that time away, even three to four years, can impact earning potential. (The Mom Project is trying to change that.)
  • Keep your network warm. Check in. Make sure your LinkedIn, Mom Project profile and resume are up to date.
  • Find ways to keep your skills up to date. Are there skill gaps you can upscale (there are an abundance of online learning platforms)? Be proactive, especially if you’re considering reinventing your professional life or entering a different field.

We continue the conversation of formatting work differently for women on the Human Resolve podcast episode, Creating a Workplace that Supports Women and Gender Equity, featuring Teresa Tanner, CEO and Founder of The Reserve Squad.

Pay Equity

A field of study and practice I’m passionate about is pay equity. We know that white women earn 82 cents on the dollar compared to white men. And women of color earn even less at 76 cents. I was eager to discuss this topic with Allison. She added to those stats the research showing that this gender gap really accelerates once women become mothers. Allison offered these strategies that women can take to increase their own personal equity.

  • Recognize that you don’t have to be perfect to get the job. Many women think they must be “10-out-of-10 perfect” on certain skills to get the job. Men tend not to think that way. They might be willing to ‘go for it’ with 4 or 5.
  • Know your value. It’s not always comfortable, but we need to be able to articulate our value in the marketplace. Role play with a friend and practice how you would express your value in an interview or conversation with an employer.
  • Be focused and intentional in your job searches. It is tempting to cast a wide net, but better to get familiar with a smaller number of targets you really admire and focus your search.
  • Embrace entrepreneurship. Many women are finding the labor market isn’t rewarding their talent properly and applying their talents to an entrepreneurial endeavor is a gratifying avenue.

I thought a good wrap to this topic was to touch on what employers can do to promote pay equity. The first of those is to be transparent about your methodologies in determining pay, how you formulate pay bands and how you pay equitability. That can be a real attractor to moms or anyone seeking employment. The second is to post compensation or compensation ranges in job descriptions if you can. As Allison noted, “you just want to know and not have to guess. It’s exciting that we are seeing compensation come to the fore a little earlier in those conversations.”

What’s Next for The Mom Project? What’s Next for Moms?

The Mom Project is growing and tuned in to the moment. Allison noted that the pandemic hit women of color especially hard. The Mom Project ramped up the work of its 501 3c non-profit, RISE, to address the need for women of color to network, to find jobs and to upscale from hourly to salaried positions. New leadership has been installed to lead this effort and elsewhere in The Mom Project leadership team to make continuous improvements to its product, to improve its data and connect with demand.

Allison summed it up, “We’re optimistic. 2020 was a tough year for moms, but the current job market is great, the number of workplaces accommodating remote work is soaring and family infrastructure investment is in play in the workplace and legislatively.”

There are opportunities for employees and employers to take action. My own work has included a big focus on helping clients figure out their remote and hybrid working strategies. Knowing that the traditional office environment is unlikely to return as it was, we’ve asked how we can redesign workspace, both physical and virtual, to support collaboration and connection. It absolutely can be done. I share Allison’s optimism and am so thankful we have catalyzing organizations such as The Mom Project.

If you’re looking for ways to bridge the gender gap at your organization, let’s chat! I’d love to hear about your challenges around gender equity and inclusivity. Reach out to me directly or on LinkedIn. You can also drop us a line here or tweet at us.

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