In 2021, twice as many women left the workforce than men, according to Motherly’s 2022 State of Motherhood survey of more than 17,000 women. Almost half of working mothers are dissatisfied with their current employer’s lack of flexibility and paid time off, and 46% of mothers who are still unemployed had left the workforce in 2021 due to childcare issues.

“I had to take a hard look at how I was managing it all. With no flexibility from my employer and childcare costs completely unmanageable, I had reached my breaking point and had to resign,” one mother said in the survey.

Companies need to know what working mothers need in the workplace so they can attract, support and retain them.

1. Make flexible schedules available to all

Despite fluctuating COVID rates, 50% of leaders already require or plan to require full-time, in-person work, according to Microsoft’s Annual Work Trend Index Report, a 2022 study of 31,000 people in 31 countries.

“The biggest issue for mothers is holding to an outdated perception of business working hours that were defined by men who aren’t primary caregivers,” says Nathalie Carpenter, founder of Well + Luxe, a strategic marketing consulting firm that supports women-owned brands. She advocates not only for flexible work days but work hours, so the work gets done “well and efficiently but not necessarily always between nine and five.”

2. Normalize mental health conversations

The pandemic triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide, the World Health Organization found. “As a woman who also identifies as a mom and first-generation Vietnamese American, the pandemic has been a source of trauma and anxiety for me,” says Sherrie Nguyen, director of product marketing for Indeed, and founder and co-chair of the Parents and Caregivers Inclusion Resource Group. “As an employee, there are days it’s been hard to show up and engage, when it literally feels like the world is falling apart around me.” She says her mental health benefits — therapy covered for two years — have been a lifesaver. 

“Mental health benefits mean making sure your health benefits cover free consultations too,” she says. And it’s not enough to provide therapy benefits; workers should have access to “culturally relevant and aware” therapists who are attuned to the specific needs of POC, LGBTQ and working mothers. “There’s been a lot of trauma that’s been incessant and ongoing over the pandemic. We need to realize that this affects how people show up,” she says. 

3. Provide paid parental leave 

One of the best ways a company can attract working mothers, or women who plan to become mothers, is to offer paid parental leave. Parental leave should include paternity leave as well. And don’t forget the child-free employees who might have extra work — offer bonuses, Nguyen says, “which makes sure that everyone feels supported and there’s not an extra burden on team members.”

Offering paid leave has strategic benefits, according to research from Oxford Economics and the Society for Human Resources, in which 58% of respondents said it led to increases in their company’s ability to attract talent, retention (55%), employee health and wellness (61%), and employee engagement (60%). 

Isn’t that what every company wants?

4. Retain new mothers 

Many new moms suffer the “motherhood penalty.” U.S. Census Bureau research in 2020 showed that the share of women who are working falls by 18 percentage points in the quarter they give birth to their first child. If they keep working, their earnings fall by almost $2,000 in the subsequent quarters and they don’t ever to their pre-birth earnings path.

“When children are born, women experience a significant reduction in labor-force participation and earnings,” Brown University professor of economics Emily Oster writes in her popular ParentData substack newsletter. “We see this overall, within families and within groups with very similar training. It seems clear, in a mechanical sense, that the cause of these changes is the presence of children.” She notes that women would very much like to return to the workforce, but are limited because of job flexibility and child care, among other things. 

5. Present a clear path to leadership

Whatever a company’s return-to-work policy and hours of operation are, clear communication is the key. And good communication means good managers — managers who are sensitive to the issues faced by working mothers and primary caregivers. This also means promoting more women to leadership positions. And where does leadership begin? At the beginning. “There is still a ‘broken rung’ at the first step up to manager,” McKinsey’s 2021 Women in the Workplace report found. The consulting firm has been seeing the same trend since 2016: Women were being promoted to manager at far lower rates than men, with women of color “losing ground at every step,” from entry level to C-Suite, which makes it “nearly impossible” for companies to lay a foundation for women to become leaders.

6. Find childcare solutions 

The number one reason women changed or left jobs, according to the Motherly Report, was a lack of childcare: A third of mothers reported that childcare creates a financial strain, and 10% of Black mothers reported having zero childcare support — twice as high as white moms reported.

Aside from on-site childcare, there are other ways to help working moms, Nguyen says, such as providing childcare stipends, pre-tax reimbursements, and even helping moms get on those tough-to-get-into daycare waitlists. Hybrid work schedules should also be coordinated with parents, to ensure that they have access to, say, Monday-Wednesday-Friday daycare (and don’t have to pay for full-time). “Don’t just pick random days. If you solve for the lowest common denominator, everybody else is happier too,” Nguyen says. 

7. Implement family-building policies for all parents 

Women are having children later and later in life, and older women often need help with family building, as do LGBTQ people. While some states and employers offer fertility benefits, very often companies don’t understand what fertility treatment entails and how it may interfere with work. 

“An employee going through fertility treatments will have ongoing doctor’s appointments throughout the work week. Offering a flexible work schedule, such as blocking off their mornings for appointments, or encouraging them to take personal days when needed, can alleviate some of the stress employees experience,” says Leslie Neitzel, chief human resources officer at Carrot Fertility, a company that offers global fertility benefits for employees. “For someone going through fertility treatments or another method of family-forming, such as adoption, it’s important to understand that this can be a very challenging and emotional time. Fertility and family-forming journeys can negatively impact employees’ mental health, so it’s important to have resources and programs in place that support them,”  she says.

8. Protect reproductive access

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe vs. Wade, up to 26 states may have limited or no access to abortion. And many companies are stepping up to offer abortion benefits to staff, including medical travel costs from $4,000 to10,000, with some companies even allowing people to relocate, no questions asked. 

“Know that 60% of women who have abortions have at least one child,” Nguyen says, referring to a Guttmacher report. “This affects moms greatly, and it affects the daughters that we raise, so I think it needs to be a topic of conversation for employers, as well as to know that they support women who need access to healthcare and can safely do so.” 

9. Encourage men to take paternity leave 

Fathers only take about one day of leave time for every month the typical mother takes. That’s not good for fathers, mothers, families or companies. When fathers take their full paternity leave, or become the primary caregiver, it eases the burden on mothers in the workplace.

The pandemic has presented an opportunity to redesign corporate culture in a way that benefits working moms. “There used to be a very firm distinction between work and life,” Nguyen says. “Now I think those lines are a lot more fluid and more integrated, and so it’s become the new norm. People don’t want to go back to the old way.”