Challenges That Working Mothers Face

4 minute read
Imagine this. After working a full, 9 - 10 hour day, skipping your lunch break to catch up on personal emails and arranging an annual furnace inspection, you were going to have to rush to get immediately to your second job? In your hurry, you get a speeding ticket and realize your car is running dangerously low on gas. Upon arriving home, you are almost immediately ushered into the moonlighting a gig – a pseudo-personal assistant kind of role – chauffeuring, cooking, and cleaning. Although you have management status, you don’t get a bathroom break, you probably won’t have time to eat (and if you do, it almost surely won’t be nutritious), you’ll be juggling requests and deadlines leftover from your day job (the non-managerial one). Despite the ludicrous nature of this employment arrangement, in the quiet moment before bed, you remember that you chose both of these jobs.
This is the life of a working mom. 
Here’s a hard truth. While some moms may tell you that these “busy years” will be the most cherished of their life, while they very well may be, the same women may be too afraid to admit that despite their best efforts, “they can’t have it all.”As organizational psychologists, we are puzzled by the notion that men seem to be able to “have it all” and yet for women, something inevitably “gives” whether it’s your marriage, your job, or your health. Author Annabel Crabb aptly phrased it – “women need wives”because, although women’s work lives and career opportunities have certainly changed, their domestic lives have not. Crabb argues that “having a wife” is a scientific, extraordinary advantage – and she is right. Although there has been a huge shift in public rhetoric in terms of parental roles, “’parenting’ i.e. primary caregiving - is actually still overwhelmingly ‘mothering’” and unsurprisingly, working moms are stressed.
While anecdotally many cite stay-at-home dads as on-the-rise, Crabb argues that in Australian families with children under the age of 15, 60 percent have a father who works full-time and a mother who works part-time or not at all. Further, full-time, working fathers are five times more likely to have a “wife”, whereas only 3 percent of families with full-time, working mothers have a father who is at home or works part-time. So… to answer the question, “Who has wives?’ Crabb states rhetorically, “Dads do.” One study of 61 CEOs in Australia found that of the 30 men interviewed, 28 had children, and all 28 had a stay-at-home spouse, yet of the 31 female CEOs interviewed, only two had stay-at-home husbands (who were actually self-employed).
Despite authors such as Crabb unintentionally taking a jab at husbands by acknowledging that their successes are made possible because of their wives’ shouldering domestic duties, we can’t simply blame the problem on men. Many husbands are champions for their wives' careers and domestic partners at home, but there is still a very real and persistent gender wage gapinequities in the use of “flex time”,and the “greedy careers” (finance, law or consulting). Although women are more educated than ever, the rises in their ranks have been completely canceled out by the effects and consequences of the 24/7 professions – we are seeing women’s careers flatline because of the demands of organizations. “[A]s more women earned degrees, the jobs that require those degrees started paying disproportionately more to people with round-the-clock availability.”This “overwork premium” forces parents with equal career potential to take on unequal roles, and unfortunately, women usually pay the price.
Although new-age organizations have made many strides to close the gender-gap, researchers note that “[n]ew ways of organizing work reproduce old forms of inequality.”While there are many proposed ideas to close the gap, such as paid parental leave, anti-bias training and men taking on more domestic responsibilities, many believe there is a whole systems approach needed to address the deeper problem, in which women inherently absorb the mental load. As one New York lawyer states regarding her husband, “If he has to work late or on weekends, he’s not like, ‘Oh my gosh, who’s going to watch the children?’ The thought never crosses his mind.”
Although the barrier that women face impacts their careers, there is a positive spillover which has implications in the development of our workforce, as research findsthat daughters of working mothers are not only more likely to hold leadership positions themselves, but also earn higher wages than those with stay-at-home mothers.Further, the benefits carry over to boys of working mothers, who grow up to be adults who are more “tactful communications, hold a more accepting view of gender equality, and have a deeper respect for the unique challenges of working mothers.”
What we encourage today is simple: an invitation to do some serious thinking, not only about how our organizations can flexibly adapt to the working mother’s life, but about how we, as working professionals, inherently devalue child care and penalise those who do it. We also need to accept the fact that women can do and be both – amazing, career driven professionals, and loving mothers – and that when we do, our organizations and families ubiquitously benefit from.

Happy Mother’s Day from the Viewpoint team to all the mothers reading today and our own mothers who made us who we are. We are forever in awe of supermoms around the world who do it all (even if they don’t have it all).

This work has been funded by Viewpoint Foundation.