The Case for Moms

img_7377Despite the gains working moms have made in society, the question still lingers for some employers as to why, in a competitive environment, they should choose moms for top positions. The assumption underneath this question is, “If given the choice between one employee whose attention is divided (between work and home) and another who does not have family responsibilities – why should I choose the mom? What competitive advantage does the mom bring to my company?”

Let’s start with output. A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that over the course of a 30-year career, mothers outperformed women without children at almost every stage of the game. In fact, mothers with at least two kids were the most productive of all (more on this here).

But there’s more! Other studies demonstrate that working women bring a competitive advantage across multiple corporate dimensions: profits, innovation, workplace culture, and management, to name a few. (I am assuming a big portion of these women are moms, since seventy percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent are employed full-time. More stats from the Department of Labor on working women here).

A recent article cites research from The Peterson Institute for International Economics, which completed a survey of 21,980 firms from 91 countries and found that having women at the C-Suite level significantly increases net margins.

“A profitable firm at which 30 percent of leaders are women could expect to add more than 1 percentage point to its net margin compared with an otherwise similar firm with no female leaders,” the report notes. “By way of comparison, the typical profitable firm in our sample had a net profit margin of 6.4 percent, so a 1 percentage point increase represents a 15 percent boost to profitability.”

That same article also concludes that women bring benefits in terms of creativity and retention:

Joe Carella, the assistant dean at the University of Arizona, Eller College of Management, has found that diverse companies become more creative. “We did our own analysis of Fortune 500 companies,” he tells CNBC Make It, “and we found that companies that have women in top management roles experience what we call ‘innovation intensity’ and produce more patents — by an average of 20 percent more than teams with male leaders. Having female senior leaders creates less gender discrimination in recruitment, promotion and retention, according to the Peterson Institute. That gives a company a better chance of hiring and keeping the most qualified people.

A 2017 Morgan Stanley report “An Investor’s Guide to Gender Diversity” found similar conclusions:

“More gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity, greater innovation, better products, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction.”

And finally this Forbes article from last month concludes that:

  • Firms with women leaders have increased sales revenues and certain dimensions of market performance.
  • Having female representation on boards of directors is positively related to a firm’s financial performance.
  • The new wave of women elected to Congress could also be a positive development for our government. Historically women legislators sponsor more bills, pass more laws that benefit women in the workplace and infuse more money back into their districts than their male counterparts.

Clearly the data points to the fact that women (and moms) in the workforce is a positive thing – but I think our imaginations are still limited by thinking about women with family and work obligations as being divided and therefore having a competitive disadvantage. We (mistakenly) believe that working moms are finite creatures who only have so much time and talent to go around, and if they give a significant amount to their family – work performance will suffer. In my experience as a working mom, manager, and leader – this is simply not true.

While working moms are indeed finite creatures, we are also really good at integrating our many spheres of life and managing multiple, competing priorities simultaneously. This can be as simple as practicing a speech while driving to your book release party while talking with your five-year old and soothing the crying baby and making sure the catering platters don’t spill in the backseat (true story! More on this personal project here) to running a large company in a fast, ever-changing industry – the muscles are the same.

And as I stood at the front of the bookstore reception room and watched my co-author (and mom of three) talk about our mission of advancing health equity in this country (while my five-year old daughter hugged my legs) I thought about the case for moms. The fact is she and I care deeply about our work because we’re moms, not in spite of it. Our mom responsibilities to be present with our families have taught us countless lessons about being present with our staff, our audience, and our neighbors in need. We wrote our book in ten minute increments in the daily chaos of life, and we’ll continue to give presentations that get interrupted by our children (either because they’re in the room or they’re on our minds) – and this will translate over into our work capacity because leadership at work is often chaotic too. The security issues, patient policies, strategic plan committee, and budget assignments all need to get done right now and the report is due by 5:00 pm.

In the fast-paced and increasingly complex world that we live in, if I need someone to handle a big job at work – I go looking for a mom.

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