10 Things Your Business Needs to Know About Moms
Insights from Two Millennials: Gaby Ruiz-Funes and rachel vrabec
Note: We realize returning to work as a mother is a complex issue, especially as women age. With a growing number of corporate initiatives focusing on the silver economy and women in the workplace, we want to contribute our insights to this movement and encourage people of all ages and demographics to do the same. Our exploration of this issue evolves daily, but here is a snapshot of what we’ve learned so far.
Mom is often the first person we thank when we achieve something. With recent Olympics commercials and the slew of pop culture “thank you mom” shout outs, mothers everywhere must feel the love and share the feeling of achievement, right? Indeed, it seems that public figures never miss a chance to remind us that mothers have a big impact:
“She encouraged her kids to be creative, to work hard and to do something special. That girl is my mother… I love you, Mom. Thank you for teaching me to dream.”
— Jared Leto Academy Award for Best Actor, 2014
“First, I would like to thank my mother Kathy Thomas … you have always been there …when I needed it most. Mom you have made a lifetime of sacrifices for me and I want to thank you for that in front of everyone tonight.”
— Jessica Dickson, Basketball Hall of Fame, 2012
“I wanna thank my mom, who has always loved me for who I am even when there was pressure not to.”
— Dustin Lance Black, Academy Award for Best Writing, 2008
“My mother…used her talent and creativity to give her children her dreams…So to my mother, my uncle, my grandma, thank y’all.”
— Beyoncé, CFDA Awards, 2016
“Most of all I want to thank my mother, because without her we never would have been anything.”
— Groucho Marx, Honorary Role, 1974
“Most of all I’d like to thank my mother, Brandy, my friend, the person who has loved me so much and so well that she taught me in inimitable Little Man Tate fashion to fly away. Thank you.”
— Jodie Foster, Best Actress In A Leading Role, 1992
“You made us believe. You kept us off the streets. Put clothes on our backs, food on the table… You sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.”
— Kevin Durant, NBA MVP Award, 2014
The real MVP. That’s quite the award. But it’s not enough to fill the 30+ years of life moms face post child-rearing. When is the last time you came across a job description looking for a candidate who, “makes sacrifices, puts own nutrition second to others, loves unconditionally?” There’s nothing wrong with the sentiment that our mothers and mother figures are resourceful, strong, caring, and have made a huge sacrifice to raise us.
But we noticed that despite the public praise, many moms are called ‘under qualified for the workforce’ after taking time to raise their kids. This is despite the fact that, by the time their kids reach adulthood, most mothers have spent two decades being a COO, a nurse, an accountant, a psychologist, an event planner, an entrepreneur… in addition to formal job titles and education. We need to talk about what mothers are capable of doing after they finish raising us.
We began to discuss all of this late one January night catching up over beers, talking about Gaby’s “entrepreneur kit” she created for her mom’s birthday — a kit that showed her mom how much Gaby thought of her innovation instincts — something that might help her mom see the power she had to observe problems around her, and turn those into business solutions. How could she fit into society’s definition of “productive” with a 25 year gap in employment from deciding to leave work to raise her children? Were other women experiencing the same uncertainty? What sorts of resources were out there for aging mothers looking to build skills, make connections, or start something new?
In researching these questions, we realized that popular society is quick to say mothers are MVPs but slow to build systems that integrate and value the unique skills and experience gained from motherhood. Going straight to the source, we began discussing the following questions with mothers who completed or were completing their child-rearing chapter: What do they see as the big problems? What are they doing to bridge this gap so far? What might they need to balance their commitments and embrace the future?
Over the last year, we’ve learned about great initiatives focused on mothers, but we believe there is still room for innovation and change… and that people from all age groups and walks of life should contribute their insights to the growing conversation. Here, we are contributing ours by explaining 10 insights your business should know about moms.
1. Mom’s skills are transferrable and quantifiable.
“I started to realize I’m leading at work, and I’m leading at home, and the skill set is no different,” says mom of four, Liz Wiseman. This overlap between what’s required to manage a household and lead a business wasn’t obvious to Liz, (who by the way is a former Oracle executive and entrepreneur), and it’s not obvious to most. But it’s understandable — we associate motherhood with emotions and intangible impact.
In reality, to deliver on the requirements of managing a household, moms are actively learning, solving problems on the fly, managing financials and human operations. One woman, we’ll call her Ann, cited her work as a mother in a hearing for child support. The judge laughed when she said the process of planning a field trip was productive work. Ann was lazy for being a stay at home mom. Despite the fact that the judge’s own son was on that field trip, the judge never considered what’s required to execute a field trip for 20 eight year olds. Logistics, team-building, finance, operations, innovation…sound familiar to the job postings you see on LinkedIn?
2. They make great leaders, but your company is missing out.
43% of women in the US with children leave their jobs. Most of these women want to return to the workforce at some point, whether their kids are still in the house or they’ve recently become empty nesters. For the women we spoke to, accessible avenues for re-entering the workforce don’t exist. Despite years in a field or expensive degrees, the opportunities available for ex-stay at home moms direct women back to entry-level positions. It’s hard for them to pick back up, but why should we assume those same women aren’t just as qualified after managing a complex organization at home? Many leaders have talked extensively about the advantages of motherhood (former CMO of McDonald’s Corp)…now we need to create a culture where we treat motherhood as valued work experience.
3. They’ve been too busy to keep a resume.
When you consider that 45% of infant deaths occur in the first 28 days of life, it’s no small feat for parents to care for a child, let alone raise them to adulthood. For us, our moms were on call 24–7 and they didn’t have time to worry about proving themselves, keeping a living resume, having quarterly check-ins with their shareholders…most mothers provide for a household, husband, and their own aging parents. If the goal of a good resume is to show your impact, growth, and valuable skills, the first 2 months of a child’s life would fill at least 1 full page. Their households are living resumes.
4. Entrepreneurs can call their business their baby, but moms can’t call their babies their business.
If mothers returning to work used ‘business speak’ to document their child-rearing years, it might sound something like, “Launched two products over the span of 30 years, resulting in acceptance into the Ivy League and only one drinking ticket.” (What would Lebron James’ mom’s resume sound like? Would employers fairly evaluate her experience as a mother?) Most employers or investors would laugh if this came across their desk.
Women we spoke with also laughed at this, “we just don’t have the language to communicate our successes and challenges of motherhood.” They feel as if there is no vernacular to connect with the formal economy, even though their skills are transferable. At a time where businesses are experimenting with new mediums to communicate ideas, women should be able to do the same.
(See the roadmap Gaby made about her mom’s Journey.)
5. While we were at swim class, they were networking.
Our mothers have built diverse networks of healthcare professionals, teachers, musicians, business owners, other parents, friends — more complex and organic than most networks built on ‘the links’. They didn’t need formal networking events to gain the most valuable asset in business. Don’t think of these women as isolated, their networks just look different.
Some have used networks to successfully return to the workforce, but many struggle to use their network for themselves instead of their children. Our mothers have used their networks to directly impact our careers, but they wouldn’t imagine asking a family friend for a board seat. We see an opportunity for women to tap their network to facilitate professional growth.
6. Even moms can’t take their first steps alone.
It may seem obvious that moms need active encouragement, but the people who gave moms the push they needed to re-enter the workforce weren’t who we expected. While children, husbands, and parents (those who we imaged being closest to moms) were supportive, friends of friends or old professors (people in their peripheral networks) were the true catalysts for change. “When I was returning to work after my first child, the computer thing was becoming a big deal. I was an english teacher by trade, but no positions were open at the time,” one woman recalled.
“My husband’s friend knew of a position in the school’s computer lab. He gave me a computer kit and said ‘[Barb] you can learn this stuff.’ So, I did. And there I was, teaching technology.”
More than anyone else, mothers have a unique ability to tap into their peripheral networks because people trust moms, and know they are adaptable and hardworking. Yet most are not tapping into this resource because of cultural and systematic biases we’ve discussed. For many, a push, a pointer in the right direction, or someone willing to make a bet can go a long way.
7. Your business sees moms as high cost. Don’t.
There’s a perception that women returning to work are expensive to onboard. Most people hiring haven’t been a mother, so they see moms as skill deficient with diminishing returns on investment. Age only compounds these factors, making it even more challenging for baby boomers with “mom” on their resume to be taken seriously. In cases where women go back to work through traditional means, they are offered positions in cost centers instead of roles that drive revenue. Employers associate moms’ skills with roles like part time internal consultant, administrative assistant, office manager, but never partner, associate, or marketing director.
In reality these women are drivers of major revenue. Moms represent a $2.4 trillion market. Women make 85% of purchase decisions, and wealthy boomer women make 95% of the purchase decisions for their households. Over the next decade, women will control two thirds of consumer wealth in the United States and be the beneficiaries of the largest transfer of wealth in our country’s history. Women age 50+ already control $19 trillion and own more than three-fourths of the nation’s financial wealth.
We were just as blown away by these numbers. We aren’t saying every mother should be handed a position in the c-suite, but they should be considered as viable candidates for profit-driving roles. As part of the group who has such staggering financial influence, moms are in the unique position to steer initiatives and capture share in the changing market.
8. Moms aren’t ignorant when it comes to technology (they send us e-mails, not pigeons).
90% of moms are online compared to 76% of women in general. Ironically, technological advances present the most intimidating hurdles for women we spoke to. They also contribute to the perception of the higher cost of hiring women who have taken time away from professional employment. “Technology has just changed so much,” many women professed.
But most fields’ day-to-day technology encompasses little more than powerpoint, e-mail, and basic excel. Our moms could easily master these tools, if they haven’t already. And new hot fields like analytics and development are new to everybody, why can’t these women join the ranks of eager learners, especially considering the push for diversity of thought in tech?
The baby boomer generation navigated the invention of the computer, the internet, and silicon valley boom. They’ve shaped how millennials build and use technology. With some smart product design, we know our mothers could easily master changes in most professions. Moms taught us survival. We owe it to them to help break down tech barriers to employment, whether perceived or real.
9. Moms want more face time, less screen time. There isn’t an app for that.
Technology is how we scale solutions today, so of course we assumed it would hold the key to answering the question, “how do we better engage mothers and aging women, and give them access to opportunities in the workforce they deserve?” While women rely heavily on the internet, the mothers we spoke to, “don’t want to spend any more time in front of a screen.” We talked to a few women who felt the return on investing time and resources in getting up to speed on the newest programs and technology was not worth their efforts. They’d rather be using technology to learn, not learning to use technology.
So that poses a challenge — the mentors and hubs we’ve mentioned are great to help leverage the talents of individuals, but they aren’t scalable. We need to address the speed at which technology is changing and for whom/how it is designed. What can we create that has their user group in mind? Moms need digital solutions that makes moms look up not down. In fact, we all do. The goal is not better technology — it is more connected experiences.
10. Your business needs to grow up.
As work cultures change, women returning to work shouldn’t have to bend to strict corporate norms, sacrificing the autonomy they have at home. “You know, we want the same thing as you,” one mom observed when discussing how much mothers value flexibility in relation to how much millennials do, too. That flexibility seems at odds with traditional productivity models but possible adjustments that accommodate mothers re-entering the workforce don’t require tons of innovation. What they do require is effort. These modifications also resonate with millennials as our generation continues to champion a new type of work/life culture.
As we’ve noted, there are high profile efforts focused on moms today. But even the most celebrated attempts merely bridge the gap back to the same routine. For women changed by motherhood, they need more than a bridge.We think there is room for a moon shot: business designed with the mom in mind.
Condensing our research, observations, and musings into 10 things was harder than not eating the entire jar of Nutella. (We’ve all been there, let’s be real). So we are promising more posts about working, moms, society, and innovation in the future. We hope this reflection on our experience has been thought provoking and that it inspires you to do your own research, create innovative business models, and create/vote for impactful public and corporate policies. After all, what’s good for moms is good for everybody.
— Gaby and Rachel
For more on this topic, check out these initiatives and resources:
- Why 43% of Women With Children Leave Their Jobs, and How to Get Them Back
- Mumzy Crowd Funding for Moms
- The Mom Project, Chicago
- Reboot Accelerator for Women
- Strawberry Frog Initiative
- AARP Return to Work Initiative
- Silver Economy Summit
- HBS commentary on aging workforce
- Financial Concerns for Retirees
- Stats to know when marketing to women