Moms in the Workforce: A Way Forward

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

By: Michelle Keefe, CEO MomUp

For over one year, women have been this country’s safety net during the pandemic. Without proper social infrastructure, the US leaned on parents, primarily mothers, to bear the burden of maintaining childcare and schooling to support the nation. Some mothers did this while working jobs simultaneously; others were forced out of work which added additional financial and healthcare burdens.  We’ve been armed with data, endless anecdotes, and harsh truths that highlight the fundamental paradigm shift that needs to happen.  At the same time, companies are in a race for high levels of inclusive talent. This is the moment to create that competitive advantage to attract and retain the best talent while also creating a supportive workplace culture.  

The Inflection Point

There are 4 million fewer women working today than one year ago and  9.8 million working mothers are experiencing burnout, 28% more than working fathers. Our society and our business culture consistently undervalue the contributions of working mothers, despite the fact that their income is critical to household financial security and the financial well-being of their companies. 

Attracting and retaining working mothers is essential, both for the performance of companies and for the overall progress and financial health of working women. Companies can’t afford to lose working mothers – and in most cases, working mothers can’t afford to leave their careers.

In my role at MomUp connecting highly educated working mothers to companies who value their contributions, I’ve noticed that employers who are successful in attracting and retaining working mothers have a few things in common: flexibility, support, and equitable cultures.


According to the Bureau of Labor, 69% of workers, not just parents, consider flexibility one of the most important factors in a job.  It’s time to dismantle the traditional, outdated views of a workday by allowing for flexibility in time and location. Employees want to feel trusted and empowered, not micromanaged.  Allowing them the freedom to choose when they work, while introducing common hours for meetings and collaboration, enhances productivity and achieves results.

At MomUp, we work with successful, experienced women at all stages in their career, whether they are returning to the workforce or looking for a more fulfilling work environment. The experience of matching companies with employees has been eye-opening in terms of understanding the power of flexibility. The companies who truly understand flexibility work with their employees to cultivate a culture that values and trusts them. They consider what circumstances will actually deliver the results they need while bringing out the best in their employees as well.

Many working parents work on a 24 hour cycle between work and childcare, unable to escape either. Encouraging employees to separate their work and personal life by creating clear work boundaries for your remote workforce is one strategy to protect working parents from burnout. Encourage employees to take care of themselves and their families, and to have “off” hours at work by establishing clear guidelines around remote work and show working parents they are valued in their workplace.


Create an inclusive corporate culture that supports all your employees during the different life stages.  This begins with your recruitment process and continues through the lifecycle of their employment with your organization.  Transparency, fair wages, and psychological safety are part of the foundation of an equitable environment.  

Transparency and trust creates a psychologically safe workplace, and it starts with healthy communication. Open communication with employees is important anytime, but it is most essential when people are facing competing and urgent demands to their time and mental capacity. With the increase of burnout and importance placed on time clocked rather than production value, many women are hesitant to express the current challenges they face. Reach out and talk to your employees.  Allow them to feel comfortable discussing their needs. Create opportunities for one-on-one check-ins and develop a process to proactively solicit feedback on employee needs.  The mental health of your workforce is not only a barometer for how successful the culture is but also a determinant for the company’s success.  

In order to create diverse and supportive workplaces, employees need to feel supported throughout their tenure.  This not only means creating a diverse workforce but also addressing the concerns of different individuals. One of the biggest concerns for women is the dearth of growth opportunities and disparity in salaries.  We cannot discuss how to support women in the workplace without also discussing the influence of race. Intersectionality within this context means we must recognize that not only are women experiencing more obstacles and biases, but these are magnified when she’s a woman of color. According to McKinsey, for every 100 men promoted, only 85 white women, 71 Latina women, or 58 Black women are promoted. To foster equity and diversity in the workplace, implement unconscious bias training for all employees.  

Pivotal Moment

We’ve lost millions of women this year from the workforce and if we don’t commit to changes now it will be decades before we regain our footing. Women, and working mothers in particular, have made hard-won progress in workplace equality. While there was still more work to do before the pandemic, the disproportionate departure of women from the workplace during COVID-19 threatens to reset the clock, and there’s no telling how long it will take to move the hands back to where we were.

There is, of course, a risk to women and their careers, and their long-term financial security. It is difficult to rebound from a loss of income. Lower-income workers are experiencing the most dramatic impact, with higher rates of job loss and departure. This places families in very vulnerable positions.

But there’s also an incredible risk for companies in losing working mothers. Companies that employ women at senior and leadership levels do 50% better than their counterparts, according to the McKinsey/Lean In study. Getting these women back into their roles after they leave will be difficult, and the cost and time of hiring and onboarding new employees is significant at a time when stability is a valuable asset. Believing this issue will resolve itself without any concrete action steps by the employer is short-sighted.

For many years, working moms have stepped up and sacrificed to advance their position in the workforce. Now, it’s time for business leaders to do the same by committing to the best practices in communication and flexibility that will enable working parents to continue to contribute to the workforce. Women, particularly women of color, were forced out of their jobs in record numbers, far exceeding other individuals.  As we resurface and move out of the pandemic, how can we make sure we don’t return to old ways? How can we work extra hard to bring women back into the workplace and keep them there? Let’s do better. 

MomUp is on a mission to connect progressive organizations with the world’s greatest untapped network of talent. MomUp recognizes the challenges businesses face when looking to hire top talent. Our community of highly skilled, educated and talented women offers incredible value to fast growing companies. We are redefining the landscape of work.  

Michelle Keefe, CEO of MomUp, leads MomUp in its quest to connect organizations with the amazing resource of mothers. Michelle found herself surrounded by highly educated, skilled, energetic multi-tasking mega stars that were unemployed and looking for new and exciting challenges. She realized that by forging partnerships with progressive companies and connecting them with skilled talent MomUp could make a major impact.  Prior to MomUp, Michelle successfully ran and sold her first business, Misha K. When she can, she tries to sneak in teaching a yoga class and she recently spent 6 weeks in New Zealand living in a camper van with her husband and 3 kids.