Do Mothers Make Better Employees?

Discussion about mothers in the workplace often centers on how companies can better accommodate their needs with more flexible schedules. However, I’ve never heard anyone wonder whether the experience of being a mother can make you a better employee—until now. On the site, Big Think, I noticed a column, “Why Mothers Are an Asset in the Workplace” by Orion D. Jones addressing the subject:

 “…Firms that do not hire mothers are turning down an extremely valuable resource. Mothers are grateful for the opportunity to be in an adult context and to reclaim their identity that is not limited to motherly responsibilities: feeding, cleaning, and clothing someone who can’t take care of themselves. And because baby requires so much attention, mothers are scheduling aces who miss no opportunity to squeeze a task into a small time window.”

Growing up in the 1980s, my mother was the only mother among my friends who had a full-time job as an executive. She was a health-care executive, which none of my friends or even my teachers could understand given the typical job roles of women at the time, so they usually got mixed up and kept asking me whether she was a nurse. Rather than being harried and overwhelmed like the stereotype of the working mother, my mother always seemed more collected and on-the-ball than her stay-at-home mother counterparts. And I bet it worked both ways—as collected and organized as she was in her personal life, I believe she was equally that way in the office. Having so much to juggle forces you to be organized and collected, or else you can’t do it.

In contrast, I’ve noticed that some of the most disorganized, chaotic workers aren’t mothers at all—but two demographics: men in late middle-age and entry-level workers of both sexes. Whether or not a woman is a mother seems to have no bearing on her ability to stay on top of responsibilities and get her work done in a timely, high-quality fashion.

As I noted in a previous blog, it is illegal to ask if a woman is a mother during a hiring interview, but clever recruiters and managers have ways, of course, of finding out. They can easily determine the woman’s personal situation by making small talk. Jones notes in his column that many companies are still hesitant to hire mothers. Given the steep challenge of motherhood, shouldn’t women who are otherwise qualified for the job be given a chance? If they can handle the difficulties that come with motherhood, they have the proper education and the right experience, and a good professional track record, I’d say you’re pretty safe in hiring them.

One interesting experiment is to take women’s experience as mothers (and maybe men’s experience as fathers) and bring it up for discussion in training courses. For instance, I bet parents know something about negotiating conflict between two people (fighting siblings are definitely the norm) and have ample experience balancing the needs of an entire household. Those same skills could be used to resolve conflict between two employees, and probably would help formulate strategy and process for work groups that comes closer to making everyone happy.

In a brain science article that will be coming out in our November/December issue, the point was made to me that employees will learn better if the training is made personally relevant to them. What could be more personally relevant than parenting?

If you’re not asking employees to draw on their experiences as a family member (including as a parent), then you’re missing a huge opportunity for discussion. Work is tough, but what people with families face when at home may be even more challenging. They say, “Mother knows best.” It may be time to put that adage to the test at the office.

Do you make use in training programs of the skills employees gain as parents? Are those lessons often a good place to begin conversations about interpersonal and management challenges?