· Insights

Working mothers are being pushed to breaking point: employers need to step up

80% of working mums consider childcare arrangements before accepting a new job or promotion - ©peopleimages.com

As this year’s International Women’s Day celebrations conclude, it's time to reflect on the gender equality landscape and the growing pressures that working mothers are facing in today’s workplace.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day was ‘Invest in women: accelerate progress’. We’re urging employers to take heed of this important message, as our research shows we’re regressing.

Bright Horizons’ UK Modern Families Index seeks to identify the challenges faced by over 3,000 working parents every year, and while previous years have shown improvement, the 2024 findings show a decline in employer support – with working mothers disproportionately impacted.

Working mothers feel the weight of responsibility far more than working fathers, which is having a detrimental impact on their work and home lives. Almost three quarters of women (74%) bear the mental load for family life compared to 48% of men, and 31% of mothers are concerned about burnout compared to 19% of fathers. 

The burden on women is more visible than ever and the need for a solution is evident. Research shows 42% of working parents are seeking alternative employment in 2024, desiring higher pay and better support with family life.

However, on a positive note, we’re seeing an increase in the number of forward-thinking businesses calling upon us to implement evidence-based, family-friendly support systems. So the fundamental question is – what can employers do to offer better help and avoid talent loss?

1. Identify the biggest challenges

One of the biggest challenges facing working parents is access to high-quality, reliable childcare, plus emergency or last-minute care for dependent family members. It’s the reason so many are choosing to reduce their hours, or leave the workforce altogether.

Findings reveal that two thirds of working parents have taken time off due to last-minute breakdowns in childcare, and almost half have resorted to using annual leave as cover. 

2. Help overcome key barriers

Three in 10 working mothers said help with childcare costs makes it far easier for them to be physically present at work, and 80% consider their childcare arrangements before accepting a new job or promotion.

It’s clear on-site and subsidised nurseries are genuine gamechangers. They take away the stress, enabling many employees to achieve more in their careers alongside their personal lives.

 3. Offer inclusive solutions

However, one-size does not fit all. In fact, if you want equity in the workforce, you need inequity in benefits. Employers need to closely consider demographics to determine the right type and quantity of support. 

Back-Up Care can support a wide range of employee needs. This solution fills the gap when regular care arrangements fall through or a last-minute option is needed. It could be at-home childcare or nursery places, at-home adult and eldercare or cover for school holiday clubs. It also extends to pet care.

 4. Expand your flexibility

While almost twice as many women as men work flexibly to meet childcare responsibilities (51% vs 27%), they feel less able to progress in their careers when working in this way (63% vs 71%).

With the day one right to request flexible working in the UK from April 2024, many employers will be shifting to a ‘flexible first’ mindset. Flexibility will quite rightly no longer be seen as a special accommodation but as the best way to support high performance – whatever the employee’s circumstances and interests.

5. Don’t stop!

Our latest findings highlight working mothers are disproportionately impacted and are being pushed to breaking point.

There’s simply no time for complacency – employers need to act now. By putting support in place to accommodate personal needs, employee stress will be reduced and performance maximised. In turn, employers will benefit from increased productivity and loyalty.

As a long-time advocate of working mothers returning to work after childbirth, and having founded India’s largest childcare organisation, I am driven to help employers provide work-life solutions. Although it may seem efforts have been made in pursuit of gender equity, there’s still a way to go and employers need to step up.

Working mothers bring so much value to the workforce but there has to be support in place to enable them to achieve a realistic work-life balance. No working parent in the 21st century expects to sacrifice their career to raise a family.

Providing solutions that support every life stage – expectant and new parents, those with older children, adult dependants, pets and more – will reduce the number of working mothers leaving the workforce and create better opportunities for growth and development.

Find out more about Bright Horizons’ Work + Family Solutions here.


Priya Krishnan is chief digital and transformation officer at Bright Horizons