Things don’t look good for mothers in journalism, according to this excellent longread by reporter Katherine Goldstein.
Media organizations everywhere are struggling to keep up with the changing needs of women in the workplace. When women become mothers, it gets even more challenging.
As Goldstein writes: “News organizations need to be smart about how to keep talented, diverse groups of journalists, including mothers with young children, in our ranks, doing the vital work that needs to be done.”
All of us have a responsibility to explore new ways of helping moms at work. Here are 11 ideas to put you on the right path.
1. 12 weeks paid maternity leave
This is the big one.
In the only industrialized nation that doesn’t offer mandated maternity leave, it’s up to employers to do the right thing.
“A start for all news organizations would be to offer a blanket 12 weeks of gender-neutral paid leave, without forcing employees to use vacation and sick time to reach that number,” Goldstein advises.
2. Paid parental leave for fathers and nonbirth partners
Women aren’t the only ones who need parental leave. Dads and nonbirth partners need time off, too.
“Greater access to paternity or gender-neutral leave policies helps increase gender equity, both at home and in the workplace,” says Goldstein.
3. Don’t judge men and women differently
Speaking of dads… Goldstein reports that fathers are more likely than mothers “to be granted requests for childcare-related flexibility and to be seen more favorably than women by their employers after asking.”
In one example, she cites a senior New York Times editor who was concerned that taking his full 10 weeks would be negatively looked upon. A female colleague pointed out that skimping on paternity leave could make management look negatively on mothers who took their full leave.
“I started to see that family leave wasn’t just a personal decision, but something that we should embrace collectively,” the senior editor explained.
That’s why it’s important that you encourage your staff—no matter their gender—to use their full paid leave. And you can’t implicitly reward people for NOT taking leave.
4. Leadership sets an example
What good is paid leave if your employees are worried it will set them back on their career path? Your management team needs to set a good example.
Goldstein recounts the story of Vox co-founder Matt Yglesias, who took paternity leave and adjusted his working hours after the birth of his baby.
Vox employee Lauren Williams tells Goldstein what that meant to their team:
“He pioneered a sense of work-life balance for parents. No one else really had to fight for understanding or anything like that. A [new kind of culture] became established. It was a big deal, and I think it would have been hard for someone who wasn’t a co-founder to start that precedent.”
5. Flexible breastfeeding policies
Goldstein cites a study for Poynter that found “nearly a third of respondents said their employer was unsupportive of breastfeeding.”
To support new mothers who are breastfeeding, you need more than a designated lactation closet. Many women need to adjust their schedules to accommodate pumping.
Make sure you’re offering flexible hours and the ability to work from home… as well as fostering a company culture that’s positive toward breastfeeding mothers.
6. Eliminate waiting periods
To receive most benefits, employees first have to work with your company for a set period of time. One way to signal your commitment to moms in the workplace is to put your policies into effect on Day One.
“Employees are eligible the day they are hired” at The New York Times, Goldstein writes. “Companies should follow the Times’s lead and make the policy effective on the first day of employment. This might help companies attract talented men and women who are planning or expecting children.”
7. Onboarding materials
A group of women at The New York Times stepped up to create an onboarding guide for workers who are preparing to go on maternity leave.
Creating a parental leave handbook gives you the opportunity to get your policies in writing and to solicit guidance from other moms who have great advice to share with others.
It solidifies your expectations as an employer while giving women the tools they need to have a successful maternity leave and transition seamlessly back into the workplace.
8. Collect data
Measure the effectiveness of your initiatives by collecting data before you start, then following up each year.
Are employees using their vacation time? Family leave time? What’s your employee retention rate? Employee satisfaction level? Are male and female employees advancing at a similar rate? Are women returning to your workforce?
If your parental policies ever come under attack due to budget cuts or management changes, you need a solid set of data to prove effectiveness.
9. Flexible working options for all
It’s not all about maternity leave. Once moms get back to work, they still need flexibility in their schedule. Childcare, school, appointments and sickness are just the beginning.
Yet, when moms take advantage of scheduling flexibility, they’re often punished—implicitly or explicitly. They may be passed over for promotions, left out of meetings, or chastised by managers or colleagues.
The way around this is to offer flexible scheduling to your entire staff—moms and all. That can mean working from home, telecommuting, or staggered work weeks.
“These policies are not just sought after by parents,” Goldstein reports. “A 2014 survey found that 43 percent of workers would choose flexibility over a pay raise, something that should be noted by cash-strapped newsrooms.”
In addition, “a study conducted by Stanford University found that when an employer allowed workers to opt-in to a work-from-home arrangement, employees were happier, more productive, and less likely to quit.”
10. Don’t treat policies as perks
Some mothers might be unconcerned about policies. They may have a particularly accommodating manager, or maybe they’ve negotiated an excellent maternity leave package for themselves in the past.
But, as Goldstein says, “relying on good bosses is not enough. Flexible work options should become part of stated company policies, rather than leavig them up to an individual’s negotiation skills.”
11. Talk to your team
Most importantly, talk to moms and dads in your office. Talk to employees who are thinking about having kids. You should even talk to employees who aren’t planning to have kids. Get a sense of the bigger picture—what does your entire team need to succeed?
Ask questions instead of dictating parameters, and you might end up elevating your entire workforce. Including the moms.