Motherhood becomes a punishment for working women who still face obstacles in balancing work and family responsibilities in the workplace
As we strive for gender equality in the workplace, Begum Rokeya’s question remains relevant: “How far can a person walk with one leg tied?”
Without the equal participation of both men and women, the economy cannot reach its full potential.
A study by McKinsey found that globally, women occupy only 38 percent of entry-level positions and only 22 percent of C-suite positions. In Bangladesh also, when we look around, we see a serious scenario among the organizations.
According to a report generated by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics titled “Gender-Based Employment and Wages,” the representation of women in public administration was only 19.62 percent, while in field administration it was slightly higher at 22.64 percent in 2021.
The report highlighted that there is a notable gender gap in the administrative hierarchy for top-level roles, with a decreasing number of women in senior positions.
This lack of representation not only hinders women’s career growth, but also limits the perspectives and ideas that can contribute to an organization’s success.
Despite progress towards equality, women still face many challenges and struggle against discrimination in the workplace.
One of the most challenging obstacles working mothers face is the motherhood penalty, which is rooted in the stereotype that women are primary caregivers and should prioritize raising their children over their careers.
In 2020 alone, over two million mothers left the workforce worldwide, a phenomenon all too familiar to many of us who know women who left their jobs after getting married.
A study by McKinsey and the Marshall Plan for Mothers reveals that 45 percent of mothers with children quit their jobs because of childcare responsibilities.
The maternity penalty has a significant impact on a woman’s career, including lower wages, limited access to training and development opportunities, fewer opportunities for promotion and discrimination in the workplace.
Even the “iron ladies” who continue to pursue careers while raising their children face challenges such as the gender pay gap.
Studies show that the motherhood penalty can lead to women earning up to 40 percent less than their male colleagues.
Data from the National Women’s Law Center shows that year-round full-time mothers in the United States earn only 70 cents for every dollar fathers earn. Similar or worse scenarios can also be observed in Bangladesh which HR personnel are aware of.
To address these challenges, Bangladesh adapted to this year’s Women’s Day theme, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”.
This can leverage innovation and technology to create more flexible working arrangements that enable working mothers to balance work and family responsibilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that remote working is possible, and many organizations from home and abroad have already adopted policies to work from home to ensure business continuity.
This approach can be extended to create more flexible work arrangements that allow working mothers to complete their work from home, especially for jobs that do not require physical presence in the workplace.
In addition, by incorporating innovative tools such as virtual collaboration platforms, artificial intelligence and machine learning, organizations can increase productivity and boost employee morale.
These tools can help automate routine tasks, reduce workload and allow employees to focus on more challenging and rewarding work.
The implementation of such innovative strategies can have a positive impact on the retention and engagement of working mothers in the workforce.
Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between gender diversity and financial performance.
Additionally, employed Americans surveyed in the Modern Family Index recognized that working mothers bring important leadership skills to the table, such as listening, multitasking, time management, being supportive, motivating, communicative and approachable.
About 90 percent of respondents to this study agreed that working mothers in leadership roles bring out the best in employees.
Simply hiring women is insufficient for true women’s empowerment. A workplace culture that supports and promotes gender equality is essential.
This can be achieved by implementing initiatives such as flexible working hours, equal pay and leadership development programs specifically designed for women.
As we celebrated International Women’s Day 2023, Bangladesh must recognize that addressing the motherhood penalty and the gender gap is not only a moral obligation but also a prudent business strategy.
Instead of simply demonstrating corporate responsibility on social media by offering flowers and chocolates to female colleagues, it’s high time companies made salaries, promotions and benefits transparent to both men and women.
These positive measures will ensure that women and men can participate fully in our economy and help it grow to its full potential.
Fazlul Karim ChowdhuryFMVA® is a business strategist and business analyst.