Why Women Don't Succeed As Much As Men At Their Jobs

Photo: Yakobchuk Viacheslav / Shutterstock
woman working at laptop with toddler on lap

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women make up 47 percent of the workforce. Nearly one-third of those women, 32 percent, are working mothers.

That's a motherload of mothers. And yet, these women in the workplace aren't being given the tools they need to provide for their families — professionally or physically.

Only 2 percent of women plan to leave the workforce to focus on family, but 43 percent of women leave their job within three months of childbirth.

Breastfeeding awareness giant Medela is looking to change that.

Medela launched a program in collaboration with other leading breastfeeding companies called Kin, a single-source solution for employers to support their employees when they return to work after a new baby.

But to understand why this is so important, we need to look at why it's sadly so revolutionary.

RELATED: Why I Will Never Apologize For Being A Working Mom

Why are women still falling behind in the workplace?

It's no surprise that COVID-19 disrupted the working world and continues to do so.

According to the 2020 Women in the Workplace study — a comprehensive study surveying more than 40,000 people across 317 companies to track the progress of women in corporate America — 1 in 4 women had to face the idea of cutting back on hours, downshifting their work roles, or leaving their careers entirely.

As a result, more than 2 million women left their careers or were forced out due to the pandemic.

But issues that already existed — lack of diversity, sexual harassment, lack of gender equity in the workplace, pay discrepancies between male and female coworkers, struggles maintaining work-life balance — have been amplified in a post-pandemic world as women find themselves forced to consider leaving the workforce entirely.

Even where progress existed, it was slow at best.

The Women in the Workplace study found that, over five years, between January 2015 and January 2020, the number of women in senior vice president positions only grew from 23 to 28 percent, and the percentage of women in C-suite roles rose from 17 to just 21 percent. Women of color, especially, were underrepresented.

The struggle is particularly real for new mothers. Over 80 percent of mothers breastfeed their newborns, and a whopping 95 percent of breastfeeding mothers pump.

But if their workforce doesn't provide the support necessary to feed their babies, it's more than a work issue — it's a quality of life issue for mother and baby alike.

What Women Need from Employers to Feel Comfortable Becoming Moms

Programs like lactation support, paid parental leave, and flexible work arrangements are necessary ways employers can provide both women and men adequate support that keeps them happy, healthy, and thriving in the workplace and at home.

Lactation support doesn't just mean a conference room with a handwritten sign on it that says "do not enter." It means ensuring employees have time built into their schedules with no recourse or issue, a dedicated, comfortable and private place to pump, and even milk transporting services.

Programs like Kin provide private pods for nursing, supplies like pumps and cleaning products, as well as 24/7 virtual support with unlimited access to live maternal and pediatric experts around the clock.

This isn't just necessary for employees but for employers.

Employers who offer lactation support programs saw a 94 percent retention rate of employees.

Companies who support breastfeeding also see returns in other ways. Mothers of breastfed babies have 50 percent fewer 1-day absences than mothers of formula-fed babies, and their children see fewer urgent ER visits.

Breast milk is truly a win-win for everyone.

RELATED: 10 Ways Working Moms Can Succeed At Parenting & Their Career (Without The Mom Guilt)

How Workplace Parental Policy Influences Government Policy To Help Moms And Dads

It may come as no surprise that countries with paid parental leave and subsidized child care have happier citizens, but what might surprise you is that this includes non-parents.

According to a study out of the University of Texas at Austin, even non-parents are happier in locations whose governments take care of parents.

Not only that, but parents whose children benefited from subsidized child care maintained their happiness even as their children got older. They stayed happy, the lingering effects of removed stress clearly lasting well past the point of service.

The study examined 22 countries and their happiness levels. It may or may not be a surprise that the United States, which does not have these policies on a government level, came in dead last.

As the U.S. does not have government-mandated work policies that help offset or subsidize parental leave or child care, the only option parents have is to rely on their employers.

Unfortunately, despite the enormous physical and emotional undertaking of childbirth and welcoming a new baby, only 21 percent of U.S. employees have access to paid parental leave.

Parental Policies That Should Be Commonplace

Lactation support

According to a Kin survey, nearly half of working moms are more committed to providing breast milk to their baby than before COVID-19.

This isn't just an opportunity for companies to do the right thing in helping women.

A study of companies with lactation support programs found 94 percent of employees returned to their company after maternity leave, compared with the national average at the time of only 59 percent.

That's why Kin offers a broad range of support, including breast pumps, private lactation spaces, 24/7 virtual support, and milk shipping.

Flexible work arrangements

If the pandemic taught us anything, we learned that working from home is possible if not preferable for many of us — especially those of us with kids.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 91 percent of human resource professionals agreed that flexible work arrangements are a major plus to employees in terms of job satisfaction and job retention.

And according to another study out of the University of North Dakota Grand Forks, this is especially true for working mothers.

To keep your employees at work, let them go home! Who knew?

Paid parental leave

It cannot be overstated that the United States is the only developed nation to not offer paid parental leave.

Childbirth is a major physical and emotional undertaking, and women are sent back to work weeks after giving birth, sometimes wearing a maxi pad and leaking breast milk because they have no other choice.

Companies who offer paid parental leave give their employees the chance to recover while bonding with their baby, allowing them to come back to the workplace healthily.

In addition to offering 16 weeks full paid parental leave for all employees, Medela has joined PL+US (Paid Leave for the United States) and 200+ companies to urge Congress to create a national paid family and medical leave program.

Issues Specific to Diversity/Women of Color

Black women were not only highly impacted by COVID-19 in terms of illness, but also in the workforce.

Black women and women of color are already disproportionately impacted by racism and sexism, far-from-equal pay disparity, and are promoted more slowly than other groups thanks to unconscious biases impacting the work environment and the accessibility of leadership positions available.

According to the Women in the Workplace study, for every 100 men promoted to manager level, only 85 women were promoted; the gap is even larger for some women: only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted.

Gender diversity is a major issue, with transgender people facing poverty levels more than twice the rate of the U.S. average.

But in addition to the systemic and pervasive racism that keeps trans people and women of color from rising and thriving in the workplace, incidents of racial violence on a national scale are impacting their mental health — and the largely white leadership doesn't provide the inclusive resources to care for their needs.

Companies who consider and celebrate diversity and culture see returns — and employees reap the benefits.

According to a survey by the Working Mother Research Institute, 91 percent of women of color stated they were satisfied with their job because they “were able to be their authentic selves” at work.

But for women who didn't feel they could be their authentic selves, satisfaction dropped to 36 percent. Trans employees whose employers fostered an inclusive, supportive atmosphere had a trickle-down effect on lower-level employees.

When people talk about gender equality in the workforce, it's not as simple as men and women being treated the same.

Working mothers must be given the tools necessary to do their job while being able to provide for their children. That's what Kin seeks to do.

To be a successful woman in the workplace, it's not a matter of "having it all" — it's getting what we need to survive and thrive.

— Created in partnership with Medela

RELATED: Why I Will Never Apologize For Being A Working Mom

Courtney Enlow is a single mom and writer whose work focuses primarily on feminism, pop culture, mental health, and where those worlds collide. Her work has appeared in publications like Vanity Fair, Glamour, Vulture, SYFY FANGRRLS, Bustle, Huffington Post, and more. Follow more of her work on on Twitter.

YourTango may earn an affiliate commission if you buy something through links featured in this article.