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Business Journal
Kids Are a Company's Greatest Competition
Business Journal

Kids Are a Company's Greatest Competition

by Jane Miller and Amy Adkins
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Children are the key factor in women's employment decisions
  • Children change women's employment preferences
  • Gender diversity demands action

Work is personal for all women. A woman's decision to work or not to work depends on numerous influences in her life -- career aspirations; life goals; economic realities; societal pressures; and expectations of parents, partners and even in-laws.

For mothers, however, Gallup has found that there is one factor that has the greatest influence on their decision to stay in the workforce or leave -- children.

Children Are the Key Factor in Employment Decisions

Gallup asked women who are not in the workforce (and not retired) about why they are not employed. Among women without children, the responses are equally distributed across economic and experience factors. For example, 22% of these women say they don't work because they don't need to earn money, and 21% say they don't work because they have been without a job for too long.

For women with children, however, the real motivator is their kids. More than half of women (54%) who do not work and who have a child younger than 18 say their desire to stay home with their children is a "major reason" why they are not working. Other factors are considerably less relevant, including the need to earn money, the cost of childcare and the ability to find a good job.

Kids Are the Most Influential Factor Keeping Mothers Out of the Workforce
Is each of the following a major reason why you are not working right now, a minor reason or not a reason?
Not a Reason Minor Reason Major Reason
% % %
You want to stay home with your children 28 14 54
You don't need to work or earn money 39 24 30
The cost of childcare is too high 49 19 27
You have been out of the workforce too long 47 23 26
There are no good jobs available where you live 47 24 25
You don't have the right skills or experience needed to get a good job 49 24 23
You don't have adequate transportation 60 17 18
You need to care for a sick or aging family member 70 14 12
Among women who are not employed and who have children at home

Children are a tough act to follow, and some women won't return to the workforce when they become mothers. They simply want to stay home with their children.

But some stay-at-home mothers might consider returning to work if the workplace was more accommodating. When asked, 53% of stay-at-home mothers say flexible hours or work schedules are a "major factor" in their ability to take a job. Four in 10 stay-at-home mothers say the same about being able to work from home when necessary.

Pay is somewhat less of an issue for this group. Thirty-four percent of stay-at-home mothers say earning enough money to pay for childcare is a "major factor" in their employment decisions. These stay-at-home mothers seem to be less concerned about a paycheck than they are about having the flexibility to be able to do things like pick up their kids from school.

Children Change Women's Employment Preferences

Of course, many mothers do work. However, the majority of working mothers would prefer to stay at home and take care of their house and family. Among mothers who are currently employed either full or part time, 40% say they would prefer to work outside the home, and 54% would prefer to stay home. The figures are almost identical among mothers who aren't currently employed: 37% would prefer to work outside the home, while 57% would rather stay home.

Majority of Working Mothers Would Prefer to Stay at Home
If you were free to do either, would you prefer to have a job outside the home, or would you prefer to stay at home and take care of the house and family?
Prefer to Work Outside the Home Prefer Homemaker Role
% %
Have Child Under 18
Not employed women 37 57
Employed women 40 54
No Child Under 18
Not employed women 51 46
Employed women 70 29

Among fathers, there is almost no difference in lifestyle preference by employment status. At least 70% of fathers who are employed -- as well as fathers who are not employed -- would rather work outside the home than stay home.

However, we do see a shift in preferences between fathers and men who are not fathers. Eighty percent of employed men without children say they would rather work outside the home. That figure drops 10 percentage points for men with children. The decline suggests that being a stay-at-home father has less of a stigma than it once did.

Nevertheless, having a child has considerably more effect on women's employment preferences than it does on men's employment preferences. Among women who are employed and do not have children, 70% would rather work outside the home -- 30 points higher than employed women with children. Women want to work, but having a child changes their perspective.

Gender Diversity Requires Action

Companies need women in the workforce if they want to compete in today's marketplace. Gender diversity creates better organizations and business outcomes. In 2014, Gallup published a study in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies outlining the relationship between gender diversity and financial performance. Researchers examined data from more than 800 business units from two companies representing two different industries -- retail and hospitality. They discovered that gender-diverse business units had better financial outcomes than those dominated by one gender:

  • Gender-diverse business units in the retail company had 14% higher average comparable revenue than less-diverse business units.
  • Gender-diverse business units in the hospitality company showed 19% higher average quarterly net profit than less-diverse business units.

Gender-diverse teams perform better than single-gender teams for several reasons. Men and women have different viewpoints, ideas and insights, which improves problem-solving and ultimately leads to superior business performance. A gender-diverse workforce gives companies access to comprehensive knowledge and allows them to serve an increasingly diverse customer base.

The challenge for leaders and managers is to understand what it takes to create and sustain gender diversity. The answer comes down to attraction, engagement and performance management strategies, and within each of these strategies is the vital element of culture. It's one thing for businesses to tout a modern or "family-friendly" work culture. It's another thing to actually live it.

A year is made up of 8,760 hours. Working women -- especially those with children -- account for every one of those hours. They protect those hours. Organizations must create environments for these women that welcome them into -- and perhaps back into -- the workplace.

A company's greatest competition in attracting and retaining female employees isn't always its industry rivals or perk-heavy companies and startups. A company's greatest competitors can be 4 feet tall with missing teeth and a soccer ball in their hands, crying in diapers, or asking to borrow the car on a Friday night.

Download Gallup's report, Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived, to learn more about what women want from work and how employers can deliver on it.

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