September 27, 2023

Breaking Down the Barriers: Challenges Working Mothers Face in The Workplace in 2023

Blog, Working Mums


I love my work, but this week, I’ve found it hard.

You see, I get the privilege of sitting in confidential conversations with my clients – where they often share their innermost thoughts and feelings and the realities of their lives.

And it’s been hard this week to hear what my clients have been experiencing.

These are women who are doing incredible work.

They are smart.
They are hardworking.
They are talented in their respective fields.

But they are experiencing barriers in their workplaces that, quite frankly, in 2023, they shouldn’t be.

Barriers just because they are women.
Barriers because they are mothers.

It’s making their jobs harder.
It’s undermining their performance.
And it’s damaging – not only practically to them in their careers but to them psychologically.

Some of their experiences have shown that, despite working for some of the world’s best-known organisations (who invest heavily in diversity, equity and inclusion and are often recognised as the best companies to work for), the day-to-day experience for women can still be challenging.

The stories I’ve heard from my clients make me sad and mad.

Often, they involve their line managers who, at best, unintentionally operate unhelpfully or unethically.

But at worst, they operate in a damn right illegal way.

I’ve heard far too many situations where my clients have experienced sex discrimination.

Why am I sharing this?

For two reasons:

If you’re an employer – what measures have you put in place to ensure your people managers are conducting themselves in a way that represents your values and legal obligations?

As we know, organisations can have the best value statements, policies and procedures, but it’s the individual leaders and managers who bring these alive. Remember Enron? They had integrity and honesty as part of their organisational values, but clearly, these weren’t being lived out in reality.

New data suggests that for almost 70% of people, their manager has more impact on their mental health than their therapist or doctor—and it’s equal to the impact of their partner.

So, ensuring that your people managers are doing their best to have the most positive impact on your people is vital.

We also know that 69% of working mums in the UK feel they have suffered some type of discrimination or negative treatment in the workplace due to becoming a mum, and 55% of mums in the UK say they need more help from employers and colleagues to be the working mum they want to be.

What are you doing to help ensure that gender bias and discrimination aren’t happening inside your organisation?

What are you doing to retain your working mums and ensure they have a positive employee experience?

If you’re a woman who has been on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour, it’s really important that you don’t internalise it.

By its nature, these types of behaviour can make you doubt yourself and chip away at your confidence.

When you receive feedback – try to consider it objectively and constructively. It’s helpful to have a trusted advisor who can give you perspective on it and help you to identify if it is gender-based criticism.

Research shows that women are more likely to be criticised than men in their careers. And that we’re often held back by over 30 different biases that are outside of our control.

So, getting this outside perspective can help you to recognise that it’s part of a larger pattern of bias against women rather than a criticism of you personally.​​

It’s really easy to feel disheartened when you reflect on this. It’s like we’re trying to navigate our careers with all these glass walls around us.

But I like to remind myself of what Kelly Diels* talks about for changing the culture of oppression and discrimination. She uses the metaphor of a wall. And suggests we each pick up our tools, pick a spot on the wall and show up.

We focus on one small part of the wall and don’t get overwhelmed by the entire wall.

We recognise we might not be expert wall climbers or mountaineers. But we each have tools. We each have something to contribute.

I can pick my spot on the wall, and you can, too.

My spot is the intersection between female leadership, working mothers and wellbeing.

What’s your spot?

My tools of choice are:

Executive Coaching – Providing impactful and insightful one-to-one executive coaching supporting women to navigate these challenges. Helping them stay in their personal power even when it feels disempowering.

Training & Mentoring – using my management development programme, Motherhood Management Matters®, which addresses the practical and psychological aspects of line managing an employee who is a working mother – throughout the entire journey of being a woman trying to manage a career and motherhood. Not only planning for and returning from maternity leave. But also beyond this – supporting working parents’ ongoing success and development. It includes online training and mentoring for managers.

Awareness Building – Delivering fun, informative and engaging workshops and keynote talks to raise awareness of the challenges and issues faced by women in the workplace. Plus, sharing practical strategies to address them. These can be from 1-hour ‘lunch & learn’ format through to full-day training.

If I was doing this alone, it might feel like a thankless task. But I’m not.
So many of us are taking small steps to take down this mighty wall.

So, I encourage you to keep showing up with your tools and taking your spot on the wall.

And if you’re responsible for managing working mothers in the workplace and you’ve not yet found your spot on the wall – this is your friendly nudge.

Get in contact to learn more about how I can support you.
Together we can play our part in ensuring these experiences become a thing of the past.

If you think your organisation could benefit from my support, please pass on this blog or email me, and I’ll be happy to chat about how I can help.


*Thanks to Katy Murray for sharing Kelly’s work with me in our podcast conversation

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