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How the pandemic’s push toward remote work could end the motherhood penalty

Instead of putting their careers on hold to start families, women can maintain their professional momentum by exploring flexible work-from-home opportunities.

How the pandemic’s push toward remote work could end the motherhood penalty
[Photo: Austin Lowman/Unsplash]

In the five years after I graduated from business school, I was excited to watch my close friends and peers—many of whom were smart and ambitious women—launch companies and ascend to senior-level executive roles. Ultimately, a good number of these women dropped out of the workforce to raise children.

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This phenomenon of a motherhood penalty is a well-documented event. Seeing its effect on so many knowledgeable and experienced women inspired me to establish my own marketing company, originally intended as a resource for working mothers.

When women choose to jump back into the workforce after having children—they face an uphill battle. Many of those women struggle to find good jobs, and they end up starting from scratch in entry-level positions. Promisingly, prior to pandemic, women’s re-entry into the job market showed significant increases—according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics—gaining every year until 2018.

Now, with the majority of America working from home during the pandemic, a key to reversing the motherhood penalty has come into focus. Countless companies have realized they can maintain their productivity and profitability while employing remote workers, and I expect many will continue to embrace work-from-home policies once the pandemic passes.

This expansion of remote work will be a game changer for women. Instead of putting their careers on hold to start families, women can maintain their professional momentum by exploring flexible work-from-home opportunities.

When searching for that optimal at-home situation, turn to a few of these techniques.

Practice caution when beginning your search

My firm rarely advertises a job is solely remote. Yes, our team is mainly remote, but we don’t make that a part of the job proposition, since a remote option shouldn’t be the main draw for an applicant. We’re transparent and highlight other facets of the position before ever giving our employees’ different options of where to work.

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Therefore during interviews, look out for red flags and vague statements by the company, which might indicate a lack of commitment to remote work or anything else. Ask the hiring manager how the company’s day-to-day operations have been affected by the pandemic and investigate whether the business plans to continue offering work-from-home positions moving forward.

The answers to these questions (and a manager’s tone when addressing them) should give you a good sense of how the company feels about a long-term shift to more flexible work arrangements.

Remain vigilant for people-first office cultures

If a company is growing its remote workforce during this pandemic, it’s likely it holds a people-centric mission and strong core values. Instead of dragging its heels, worrying about profits, or conducting mass layoffs, the business probably adapted to the new reality quickly and found a way to continue providing value to its clients.

And the savviest employers are doing more than offering remote jobs. They are finding creative and authentic ways to boost team morale and form tighter bonds during these unprecedented times.

One of my clients, for example, recently launched “virtual water cooler” hangout spaces for his team. And every day, he eats “virtual lunch” with a group of employees who would otherwise rarely have an opportunity to interact with him. During these lunch conversations, he learned that one employee was making cloth masks, which led the company to announce that it would pay for the employee’s fabric and cover her shipping costs.

Pay close attention to what—if anything at all—a business does to ensure its remote workers are happy and engaged. Ask the hiring manager to describe the company’s collaboration tools and processes, and do not hesitate to reach out to former employees via LinkedIn for third-party input on the company’s culture and values.

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Apply your skills in novel ways

It might be difficult to find a remote position that perfectly aligns with the responsibilities you had in your previous in-person job. However, your odds of landing rewarding and challenging work are still quite high. According to a 2019 survey, 84% of companies are willing to hire and train candidates who do not possess every required skill listed in a job description.

When browsing open positions, keep an open mind about how you can apply your experience and abilities to address the company’s current needs. When you submit your application, include a note where you clearly state which of your skills could transfer to the current role.

One of my company’s recent hires used to be a political speechwriter. She left the workforce for seven years to raise her kids, and we brought her on to write case studies and blog posts. During interviews, we discussed the similarities and differences between her current skill set and what our company was looking for. Eventually, we decided that she would be a great fit for an open role after some on-the-job training.

If she had only searched for political speech-writing jobs, our recent hire would have significantly limited her opportunities. However, because all parties kept an open mind when assessing her skills, she successfully reentered the workforce in a relevant role.

Remote work is becoming the new norm—and parenthood no longer means sacrificing your career. Despite the unfortunate fallout of COVID-19, this is a perfect time for women to explore their career options proactively and sidestep the motherhood penalty that has plagued working women for too long.


Christine Alemany is the CEO at, TBGA, which provides executive-level marketing expertise. She has more than 20 years of experience reinvigorating brands, building demand generation programs, and launching products. In addition to her work at TBGA, she advises startups through Columbia Business School’s Entrepreneurial Sounding Board, and she is a teaching fellow at the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center.

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