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4 things small businesses can do right now to help working moms

It’s no secret that many women are rethinking work—or leaving altogether. These small shifts in policy, proposed by two advocates, can help make the workplace work better for moms

4 things small businesses can do right now to help working moms
[Source photo: ergonofis/Unsplash]

More than 50% of small businesses said they couldn’t fill open positions last month, according to the National Federation of Independent Business—a 48-year peak. 

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What if small businesses became a safe haven for hardworking moms?

As the numbers of women leaving the workforce attests, businesses need to improve their benefits to retain talented moms. One constituency in particular stands to gain from implementing mom-friendly policies: small businesses. 

Here is the reality: Nearly one in four working women in North America are now considering downshifting their careers or dropping out of the workforce entirely because businesses have long failed to provide the basic accommodations like childcare benefits and flexible leave that would make juggling home and work manageable.

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Here is the opportunity for small businesses that are understaffed and struggling to hire: mom-friendly policies as a competitive lever to attract and retain talent. 

Small shifts can be major game-changers for both moms and small businesses. They don’t cost much and they’re relatively easy to implement. 

Here are  four small shifts that small businesses can make now: 

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Provide maximum control over scheduling

Giving working moms control over their schedule improves productivity and engagement. Small businesses with hourly workers, should aim to provide employees with predictable shifts and advance notice over their schedules. For salaried workers, this means giving mothers flexibility over what hours and days they work instead of the standard 9-5. For example, by thinking about scheduling needs ahead of time, evaluating staffing levels and availability and making it easy for employees to access and change schedules, business owners can create scheduling practices that benefit both the business and staff. 

Support moms with childcare

Sixty percent of moms want access to childcare, according to recent research by the Marshall Plan for Moms and APCO Impact. For businesses that can’t afford childcare centers, this can look like negotiating discounts on behalf of employees at local childcare centers or offering Flexible Spending Accounts for childcare expenses with pretax dollars. At a minimum, consider providing information about quality, local childcare providers. Though this may seem like a small step, it can be a powerful form of support by helping moms save time on research. 

Create on-ramp programs to bring moms back to work

Moms are more likely to come back when they are welcomed back and given a supported, individualized pathway to do so. One in three women have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce this year. Employers of choice should not only create space and time for moms to catch their breath, but also open doors for them when they are ready to return. Small businesses can lead a culture shift by pivoting away from the biased hiring algorithms employed by larger companies to screen out candidates who have taken a gap and strive to connect with the person behind the profile.  

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Guarantee paid sick leave

Research has shown that employees who lack paid sick leave are more likely to go to work sick, have financial hardships, skip preventive healthcare, and spread contagious diseases. But nearly one-third of parents are afraid they may lose their job or a day’s pay when their kids are sick and can’t go to childcare Sick leave not only benefits moms and the people in their care, but promotes responsible work practices by preventing the spread of germs.

The COVID-19 crisis has illuminated what we’ve always known: the structure of work in America doesn’t work. In the words of Ashley Austrew, a mom and journalist in Nebraska, “It’s absurd the way Americans have been asked to carry on as normal during a pandemic. So many are unemployed or working impossible schedules because they don’t have the option to scale back at work. We can’t expect parents to be full-time caregivers and full-time workers for the long term. It is impossible.” 

While large enterprises debate approaches to the future of work, small businesses can take advantage of their size and nimbleness to drive change today by becoming incubators of forward-thinking solutions around the interventions that moms need most from flexibility to childcare support and leave policies. Both small businesses and moms are experts at finding inventive solutions—making them an ideal combination to join forces and aid each other in pandemic recovery. 

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Such steps are critical to survival—not only for the millions of moms have struggled to stay afloat amidst the pandemic but also for the small businesses that have been hit hard by COVID-19.  


Denielle Sachs is the Global Head of APCO Impact, the sustainability and social impact group at APCO Worldwide. Akinyi Ochieng is a senior consultant with the practice, focused on equity & justice issues. They were lead authors of Making Workplaces Work for Moms, done in partnership with the Marshall Plan for MomsIt lays out policies and practices that employers can implement to create more mom-friendly and inclusive workplaces. Its recommendations are grounded in data and research including a survey of more than 1000 moms across the United States.


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