1 in 10 working women is a single mother, a figure likely to increase over time. Employers should view the retention and advancement of this population as necessary and critical.As a professional who has been a single mother for the last six years, I've done quite a bit of online research about single motherhood (you try it: Google "single mother"). What I've consistently found is content broken down into five categories: 1) parenting/co-parenting, 2) financial/legal advice, 3) counseling on topics such as surviving abuse, coping with divorce, and building self-confidence, 4) dating, and 5) entrepreneurship. Also, there has historically been a great deal of judgment, blame, and dismissal of single motherhood.
Needless to say, although 76% of custodial single mothers are gainfully employed (according to recent U.S. Census data), the topic of single motherhood in the workplace is rarely discussed. In a summer series of articles, I'll post weekly on career-related topics such as productivity, flexibility, intersectionality, implicit bias, outsourcing, and managing energy levels. These posts will include interviews, research-based data, and my own personal opinions. I'm excited to kick off the first topic I'd like to address in this article: the inclusion of single mothers in the workplace.
For many single mothers, resources can be scarce - climbing the corporate ladder can take the back seat and other priorities take the forefront. For example, these concerns can be related to relationships (family/co-parenting, romantic), wellness (counseling, nutrition, exercise), or quite frankly, childcare related, not to mention other lifestyle priorities such as social activities, spiritual affiliations, or hobbies. However, if employers prioritize effective benefit offerings, innovate employee resource groups, and train leaders to manage a diverse set of teams that include single mothers, we can ensure that professional single mothers advance in the workplace and reach their career potential.
Currently in the United States, there are approximately 12 million single parent families with children under the age of 18. Let's do the math - 80% of those families are led by single mothers - that's 9.6 million single mothers. Additionally, 76% of custodial single mothers are employed full or part-time; that's 7.3 million professional single mothers. If there are 155 million employees in the U.S. workforce as of January 2018, with approximately 50% women, then ~77 million women are working in this country. This all points to the fact that 1 in 10 women in the U.S. workforce is a single mother of a child (or children) under 18 years old. This population also currently makes up 5% of the U.S. workforce. With trends such as higher divorce rates, single motherhood by choice, and the growing number of millennials choosing to have children out of wedlock, these figures are likely to increase. Once limited to low-income women and minorities, single working motherhood is more prevalent today than it has ever been, and employers should pay attention to this expanding demographic.
Personally, as a single mother, I am more dedicated to my career than I've ever been because so much is dependent on my success at work. In my experience, many other single mothers share this sentiment. Not only are we loyal to our employers when they offer effective benefits such as back-up childcare, flexible working arrangements, and practical informational resources, but we remain even more loyal if parenting affinity groups and other informal networking/mentoring is offered. Most importantly, leadership must be trained to be effective, inclusive people managers. We will do great work, contribute to firm culture, and make time to attend those inconveniently-timed after-work happy hours.
Let's move past the patterns of assigning culpability, penalty, and rejection, and move toward acceptance, inclusion, and belonging. In doing so, we will be able to have the important conversation of: how do we retain, develop, and invest in single mother employees. To take this one step further, employers must find ways to make sure we are on teams that embrace us and what we bring to the table. According to Working Mother, an organization that focuses on helping moms blend their careers and families, the best 100 companies to work for are helping women thrive through paid leave, flexible work, and advancement opportunities. We cannot afford to leave single mothers (10% of this group) out of the equation.
We can all work together to build an awareness of this topic within our own companies. Please comment and share - let's start the discussion!
Joyce Cadesca is the Founder of Top Mom, a blog that empowers working single mothers to excel in their careers. Joyce works as a Finance Director at Morgan Stanley and earned an MBA in General Management from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. She is also passionate about educational access and equity, and enjoys actively volunteering with organizations dedicated to eliminating the "opportunity gap". Joyce graduated with a B.A. from Columbia University.