Helping overburdened mothers stay in the workforce

I became a working mom coach after struggling to balance two kids and a demanding job within the confines of corporate culture. After having my first child and returning from maternity leave, I asked for a mere half hour of flexibility in my schedule to tuck my daughter in for bedtime, and was denied. So, I left and started my own marketing company, running it for years with two children before re-entering the workforce full-time. Nothing had changed.

I accepted a position with a midsize company running a large marketing, communications, and engagement team, and after a month I was told it was hard to be successful in hospitality with kids. Two different leaders in the organization told me stories of crying children missing their mother because of her long nights and weekends at work, essentially telling me this is what it would take to be successful.

Sarah Wood [Photo: courtesy of Plan Creatively]

A few years later, I started a large multinational organization, thinking there would be more support, or at least less hostility, for working parents. I was there during the height of the pandemic when everyone was adjusting to working from home with young and old. While most people understood that the kids showed up on Zoom, my boss (and often his boss) scheduled calls regardless of later hours, dinner or bedtime, and I could never wait before taking the kids to bed.

The lack of understanding and support in these companies did not foster loyalty or commitment, nor did it create long-term success. These managers led based about the experiences they had, instead of empathetically responding to my needs, or those of any working mother, and giving us the support to help us succeed.

The challenges I experienced in the corporate world revealed the huge gaps we still need to fill to keep mothers in the workforce. I started my coaching practice focused on new mothers, helping them navigate their new reality of managing their increased responsibilities at home while managing work. This grew to include mothers in all stages of motherhood, in different industries, at various levels within the company, and around the world. Through our work together, these women became more confident, more resilient, and better able to align their lives while communicating their needs.

Rebalancing our lives so we can thrive

The uphill battle facing working mothers around the world is strikingly similar. In addition to microaggressions at work, feelings of being overwhelmed, overworked, and off course (and the need to “hold it all together”) have come to a head. We take care of everyone else’s needs: kids, boss, spouse, and colleagues, leaving no time to recharge. These overloaded feelings are spilling over both at home and at work, without the tools to make a change.

In supporting working moms, these are the first three steps I take with them to clarify and then transform their lives to find career success, while gracefully managing home, work, and self-care.

goal setting

This doesn’t look the same as it did before the kids, as it encompasses your entire life, not just work. Imagine that someone is giving a speech to your 80the birthday or your retirement party: what do you want them to say? From here, you can work backwards to set your goals for parenting, finances, work, relationships, health, and personal development, consciously choosing the items that give your life meaning and purpose.

Balance

After looking at your goals, decide what you want your days and weeks to look like. Do you want to dedicate 70% of your time to achieving your work goals and 10% to your family, 10% to chores, 10% to health, to equal 100%? Or how does balance feel to you? Your personal equation will determine the speed at which you can realistically achieve your goals.

Communicating your needs

Once you are clear about your goals and how you want your life to be, it is important to share this vision with the people in your life. Your partner needs to know that you want to spend 10% of your time on your health, which may mean your partner cooking dinner or you ordering a caterer. Her boss must know that he is looking to develop more entrepreneurial skills and bonus points if he already has an idea for her on how this can happen. Even sharing this mindset with friends can be a good thing, as they can help keep you accountable and help you say ‘no’ when necessary.

Every working mom needs a coach

While coaching offers working moms a higher level of skills in all aspects of their lives and gives them the tools to ask for what they need, women can’t do it alone. Companies looking to retain women in the workforce can provide training that addresses pain points in their lives, helping them thrive in the office and at home. A personalized benefit like this shows that the company is really listening to the needs of working moms and not just providing standard initiatives to match the competition.

Those unsupportive bosses, who probably just don’t know better, could also benefit from training to better communicate their expectations, while recognizing the needs of their employees. A good start would be to give working moms the space to create boundaries and offer flexibility. This will only give them autonomy to succeed on their own terms, and support from their bosses will create a positive ripple effect, seen through increased engagement, productivity, and loyalty.

As we slowly emerge from the pandemic in which women have been on the brink, companies must reconsider what it will take to retain this at-risk population. By helping working moms reconnect with their goals, rebalance their lives, and share their vision, businesses, families, and the individual stand to gain.


Sara Madera has led organizations and teams around the world before founding plan creatively to offer career guidance to working mothers through corporate, individual and community programs.

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