Recently, the confirmation hearings for potential Supreme Court Justice Amy Comey Barrett brought an issue to light that hits close to home for me – being a mother of a large family. Barrett has seven children, which attracted many comments.
Having three or more children is much rarer than it was in the past. 63% of women ages 40-44 have 1-2 children; only 14% have four or more. Taking into account level of education, women like Barret with a postgraduate degree and four or more children are rare. Only 8% of mothers ages 40-44 with a postgraduate degree have four or more children.*
With four young boys and a PhD, I also fall into this 8% of American women. However, there’s no one size fits all for managers looking to hire and retain women with large families. With 865,000 women having left the workforce in September alone**, figuring out how to hang on to your top employees with families is going to become even more essential for organizations. Here are a few tips on how to consider employees with large families.
First, create psychological safety. Depending on individual preferences, employees may or may not be comfortable discussing their families at work. While you may not want to spend a lot of time on discussing your personal life, opening up about your own family situation can send the message to others it is OK to bring their whole self to work. Covering up parts of our identity in the workplace takes a toll on productivity and can make employees more likely to leave.
Second, acknowledge their role but keep it professional. Acknowledging your employee for wearing multiple hats is great; dwelling on it is not. Comments like, “I don’t know how you do it” have the effect of undermining the effort that many employees put in to maintain a sense of professionalism at work. Try something like, “I know you wear many hats, and I appreciate how organized you are in your role at work” acknowledges their home life without undermining the effort they put into their job.
Last, don’t make assumptions about preferences of workload. Nothing is more frustrating to a mother than when people assume she does not want a bigger role due to her family life. I’ve been on the receiving end of such assumptions, and have had to ask specifically for a bigger role. If there’s a task or role that a mother of a large family would be appropriate for, then ask her if she wants to take it on. Always ask rather than assuming.
Organizations need strategies to keep more of their women in their work force. Mothers with larger families require some extra attention. Good luck keeping your key employees on the team.
*Family Size Among Mothers | Pew Research Center. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/05/07/family-size-among-mothers/
**Carrazana, C. (Oct 11 2020). 865,000 women left the workforce last month. USA TODAY. Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/10/11/865-000-women-were-laid-off-last-month/3609016001/