Four ideas for retaining working mothers

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It’s no secret that working women tend to drop out of the workforce at times when they could be pursuing valuable opportunities. But a University of Leicester study explains exactly what it is that turns middle-class mothers away from the office: it’s because they’re unwilling to behave like men.

“Unless mothers mimic successful men, they do not look the part for success in organisations (sic),” says the paper, which studied women in professional or managerial positions. The researchers found that before the women had children, they accepted and encouraged a masculine culture at work, but after their first child, they found they could no longer fit in, and started feeling the need to hide the fact that they were parents.

“Many women leave high-powered jobs because they are relegated to lesser roles and feel the need to suppress their identities as mothers,” says Shireen Kanji, co-author of the study and a senior lecturer in work and organization. “We cannot afford to waste such skilled and educated workers.”

Analyze employee surveys by gender You may notice some inherent differences in the requests women make compared with men. “We have to really listen to what would make a workplace conducive to women thriving,” says Wendy Wallbridge, author of Spiral Up!, a workplace leadership book for women. “We have to stop trying to make them work like men and be like men.”

Celebrate young families If parents feel like their families are valued by the company, they’re less likely to leave. Celebration could mean a gesture like a baby shower, a wall of family photos, or something more significant, like paid parental leave.

Don’t exclude men from the conversation For a harmonious working environment, men need to be included in the conversation as the workplace moves towards change. “This is not just a women’s issue,” says Megan Costello, head of the Boston Women’s Commission. “This is a man’s issue too, and the recognition, the acknowledgement of that, helps propel this forward.”

Offer flexibility One of the key factors that keeps women out of the workforce is a lack of flexibility. While all workers generally benefit from flexible hours, mothers especially value the opportunity to balance work and family.

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