Does the Boss Have a Role in When Millennial Women Start a Family?

Posted By Terri Williams on November 9, 2016 at 8:49 am
Does the Boss Have a Role in When Millennial Women Start a Family?

Millennials are graduating to an economy that is slowly recovering from the recession, causing them to delay many major life decisions. For example, earlier this year, EdAssist released a survey revealing that student loan debt was causing graduates to postpone getting married, purchasing a home, and saving for retirement. Now, according to a new report by Bright Horizons Family Solutions, millennial women may postpone the decision to start a family out of fear that it could hinder their career.

According to the report 70% of expectant mothers and new parents say that their employer is the most important factor in deciding when to start a family. While the majority of respondents don’t think that parenthood will affect their work commitment, they fear that their bosses don’t agree.

Below are some responses from the survey segment of the report:

After telling the boss that they were expecting a child:

20% Felt that they were now at greater risk of being fired
20% Were passed over for a new opportunity


After returning to work, both mothers and fathers experienced workplace bias:

43% Believe their employer sees them as less committed
39% Feel their employer would prefer they found another job
37% Believe they’re treated worse than other employees
35% Feel actively discriminated against


As a result, many parents are rethinking their jobs:

78% Considered not returning to their company
59% Are likely to switch employers
50% Have taken a new, lower-paying but family-friendly job


Note: First-time fathers believe that they experience even more workplace bias than mothers, and 65% of them are likely to switch jobs.

Some not-so-subtle signals about family

The above and other results show that many employees get signals – intended or not – that having a family isn’t a good career move.

Dave Lissy, CEO of Bright Horizons, tells GoodCall that for the past three years, each of the organization’s Modern Family Index surveys has shown that parents are subject to workplace bias. “There are many leading employers that have worked to create cultures that foster a healthy integration between work and life,” Lissy says, but adds. “However, it is clear that working parents throughout the U.S. are still struggling to manage all of their responsibilities and are still suffering the repercussions of bias at work.”

It doesn’t appear that companies are inherently against kids. Instead, they are concerned about the effects of parenthood on their workers. Rene Almeling, associate professor of Sociology and Public Health at Yale University, tells GoodCall, “Modern-day companies create enormous pressure on employees to devote themselves to their jobs.”

Research from the Economic Policy Institute reveals that the wages and quality of jobs for college graduates have declined. As a result, many young workers who have been able to find jobs believe they must do whatever is necessary to remain employed. “Expectations that workers are continuously available 24/7 makes it difficult for young women and men to imagine how they will fit in time for a family,” Almeling says.

The Catch-22

Such rigid demands and the perception that employers frown on anything that “competes” with the job may actually produce the opposite effect. While some millennials may struggle to find good jobs, those in high-demand professions can afford to be more selective. For example, according to a Raytheon report, the U.S. may need foreign labor to fill STEM jobs.

According to Lissy, “The labor market is continuing to tighten and we hear from employers all the time that competition for talent is fierce and retaining key employees continues to be a top priority.” Lissy says that organizations must realize that their success is highly dependent on their employees, “who are – or will become – working moms and dads.”

Stacie Engelmann, SPHR, assistant vice president and HR consultant at Lockton Companies, puts it another way: “Many employers recognize they are losing top talent when their organizational practices don’t support the flexibility employees want.”

Promoting a more supportive family environment

Fortunately, Lissy tells GoodCall that Bright Horizons works with hundreds of companies that are sensitive to the workplace challenges of new mothers and fathers, and these organizations want to ensure that their employees return to work with the same level of commitment and excitement.

“The fact that this year’s report reveals nearly two in five first-time parents felt they needed a family-friendly job before having their first child shows that these employees would stay in the workforce with the right combination of job, pay, and work/family life balance,” Lissy says. “The most important thing that employers can do is to ensure from top to bottom, the organization is committed to creating an environment of open communication and trust and one where employees feel supported and valued.”

So what does that look like? Engelmann tells GoodCall that some companies are taking the following steps:

  • Expanded paid parental leave and flexibility options
  • Offering onsite daycare, or back-up child and elder care options
  • Providing on-site job perks and concierge services (car washes, dry cleaning pickup and delivery, gyms, yoga and more)
  • Allowing employees to maximize their time at home
  • Allowing new mothers to bring their babies to work for a short time upon returning from leave

But while some companies are becoming more receptive, many are not making progress in this area for the employee looking to start a family. “Much more needs to be done, and it will probably require federal regulations, such as those that exist in other countries,” Almeling says. “Other countries do a much better job of supporting people who work and have families with generous parental leave and affordable daycare.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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