Why Working Mothers are the Best Bargains in Business

working mothers bargain

A couple of years ago, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis set out to learn how parenthood affected employee productivity.

It will surprise no one who's managed a household of children that adding a couple of offspring to the mix has a pretty profound effect on one's job. Turns out, they make people more productive. Yup, you read that right. More.

Planning for Productive Careers

The study of nearly 10,000 economists set out to understand the relationship between parenthood and skilled employees, and why highly trained women were still lagging behind in leadership roles. Could sagging post-parenthood productivity be the culprit? It turns out, it couldn't.

Perhaps even more interesting than the findings themselves is what the study had to say about the theory behind them: that career-oriented women are planners. "A woman who aspires to an academic career and wishes to have children will certainly plan ahead and try to optimize the timing of her professional and family-related actions," read the study. "She will make an attempt to rear her children when it is least damaging for her academic career and she will also gear her professional efforts to her family objectives." In other words, by the time she's had a child, she's already invested a substantial amount of time becoming a great employee.

The theory fits with the conclusions of our own Modern Family Index (MFI). Parents told us they're waiting to have children until they feel both comfortable with professional standing and established in careers. The theory is also born out in CDC data showing that women are increasingly delaying parenthood until their 30s.

Equally telling, the productivity findings fit with another insight from the 2014 MFI: that managers consider working parents to be exceptionally good multi-taskers. That's no surprise given the job requirements of working parenthood - managing kids, jobs, households, usually all at the same time. It's a feat one Forbes writer described as "plate spinners at a carnival."

The Best Reason for Retaining Working Mothers

And the latter takes us back to the St. Louis study findings; that parents are more productive over the lifetime of their careers. Young parents have mastered the multi-task; older parents and empty nesters are freed to invest that mastery solely back in their careers.  In between are exceptionally efficient employees who can meticulously fit deadlines in small windows between child care drop-offs and pick-ups.

The phenomenon's not lost on recruiters.  Working mothers learn early that they'll have to shift gears to squeeze so much into so little time, staffing firm owner Sheila Murphy told us recently. And business leaders, she said, are increasingly recognizing their value.

"When we sell them to businesses," Sheila said on our podcast, The Work/Life Equation, "I often get the comment, 'Oh, a working mom? I'll take her.' Because they know they're going to get a bang for their buck."

So much productivity in so little time? That makes the benefits to keep working mothers ace strategies that are worth their weight in ROI.
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Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.