The Mom Project, a Chicago-based startup, has raised a $2.6 million seed investment led by an early stage investment platform, Atlanta Seed Company. The raised amount – roughly equivalent to the annual salary of 65 American women – is going to be used to demolish the following statistic: 43% of highly qualified women leave the workplace after having children, according to the Harvard Business Review.
There’s a roar against sexual harassment and discrimination against women at workplace, but the bias against working mothers usually goes unnoticed. Although it’s not a substitution, it is important to identify and attack the long-standing stigmas and assumptions against mothers. Employers and colleagues are unapologetic and unopposed in thinking that women are less competent, interested, or committed to work after becoming mothers.
The situation is dire: According to a study by Washington Center for Equitable Growth, working mothers are offered 7.9% less salaries than childless women. There may be no need to corroborate further but it is important to reiterate that the wage gap between working mothers and women without children is even larger than the gender wage gap. This means that if you peeled off discrimination in the labour market, layer by layer, you will find mothers scourging at the very bottom.
But not everyone agrees. The inevitable defence in this conversation is focused on how mothers choose to work less and how they don’t want to take the stress of a high-pressure job. While it may be true for some women, it is certainly not true for all. Thought leaders like Arianna Huffington have regularly discussed how women don’t go back to working full-time because of low levels of engagement, the toxic definition of success, and the culture of rewarding the slogger. Another conspicuous factor is the lack of opportunities for the returning mom. A study by Shelley J. Correll, found that prospective employers called mothers back for interviews only half as often as they did childless women.
There’s little doubt that discrimination against working mothers is alive and flourishing. But startups like The Mom Project can help mothers juggle work while rocking the cradle.
The Mom Project is a digital marketplace which connects moms on pause with companies that need qualified and experienced employees. The listings are for varying opportunities: short-term, temporary, permanent, or something called “maternityship” – a position to fill in for a person who goes on a maternity leave.
It was started by Allison Robinson when she was on her own maternity leave from her work at Pampers (Procter & Gamble). Since the launch of The Mom Project in 2016, Robinson has been tending to her startup along with her newborn. At first, Robinson got several women to join the network through professional and alumni associations in and around Chicago. And even now, the startup is steadily growing through word-of-mouth publicity and a little bit of social media marketing. It claims to have over 35k mothers on its network today.
The Chicago-based startup doesn’t charge the mothers looking for jobs but collects its fees from the companies. In addition to connecting them to a prospective employer, the startup also handles the terms of employment and processes the moms’ payments. The Mom Project will also intervene should a crisis occur between the mom and the employer.
But can anyone be the mom of The Mom Project? Actually, you don’t have to be a mom. The startup is an equal opportunity employer and its FAQs state that you only have to believe in its mission.
Mum’s The Word
The Mom Project’s entry has proved that there’s a substantial number of mothers who want to get back to work and that it isn’t a fad. But
However, the Mom Project is not a pioneer of this idea. Five-year-old startup The Mom Source calls itself the only organization dedicated to be the advocate for flexible employment. But The Mom Project seems like its cooler cousin with more members and a flashier roster of clients.
The Mom Project is also catering to a niche market: You need to have an undergraduate degree, five years of professional experience, and must undergo an interview with a talent manager to be recruited. But if you want to stand out, a master’s degree or higher will help as 40% of its candidates have a master’s degree or higher.
Once you sign up, you can build your profile where ‘flex factor’ or a series of questions around the type of work you want to do, the number of hours you can work, willingness to travel out of town, etc. take pride of place. The Mom Project then hunts for the perfect project for you with clients who believe in diversity and flexibility, and are not suspicious of a woman’s competence because she went on a maternity break.
Mom Up, America
CEO Allison Robinson hasn’t stopped here. The startup recently launched a campaign called #MomUpAmerica where a group of badass women are seen discussing the wage gap and the mom penalty. “I lost six weeks of sleep when my first daughter was born,’ one woman says, ‘I am pretty sure I can burn the midnight oil.”
But to Robinson, the real victory would be policy changes. “If you’re looking at a median income of $39,000 and putting two kids in a day care is $25,000, the economics don’t make sense, so we also have some structural policy issues,” she says. However, it has been understood that even employers ignore the long-term gains when they discriminate against mothers. Employee retention is dependent on various things including child-friendly policies. “You look at what happened in Google when they increased their parental leave policy,” Robinson says, “They doubled their retention of parents.”
But mothers are still silent. Katherine Goldstein while comparing mothers’ silence to the #Metoo movement for the New York Times said that since mothers have a family to support, they are less than willing to jeopardise their career.
Fear is valid and undeniable, but thousands of women chose courage as they risked their careers to speak out against sexual harassment. It’s not too much to hope that a new movement can soon abolish the unwritten but ubiquitous punishment mothers face for their choices.
A Department of Labor report estimated that “if U.S. women between 25 and 54 participated in the labor force at the same rate as they do in Canada or Germany, which have paid leave and other family policies… (it) would translate into more than $500 billion of additional economic activity per year.”
It truly makes both personal and economic sense for us all to say what Goldstein already has: #MomsToo.