Working Mothers and Organizational Empathy

In the current times, career-focus, maternity and childcare have become major dilemmas, which every working woman and nuclear family is facing. Most of the corporate women’s careers take a significant setback during maternity and post-maternity childcare. Can organizational empathy create a unique mechanism ensuring both working moms’ career to their full potential and corporate bottom-line?

Commonly., empathy is understood as an individual characteristic where the second-person or the person in the position of power or privilege can understand put herself in the position of the speaker or underprivileged and feel her situation. Empathy is a common trait among social entrepreneurs. Empathy is one of the significant factors which drive human actions aimed at designing enterprises, businesses with the mission towards addressing the human social and environmental needs. While academic literature limits organizational empathy towards organizations’ desire to put herself into the shoes of the customer and imagine products and services addressing the consumer’s needs. We define organizational empathy as a means to create workspace, organizational values that benefit both the workers within organization and society in general.

We consider organizational empathy as a set of values where organization thinks through its stakeholders, their concerns and their position and after that, design its workplace, value creation and mission accordingly such that each of its different sets of stakeholders is equally well addressed. This short article discusses working mothers, their careers and organizational empathy and explores the effect of organizational empathy on maternity choices and women's careers.

First, the stress of managing maternity delays pregnancy, a decision whose long-term effects are visible are not just on the families but can be seen at the national level. For example, the average age of Japan is over 54 years (26 years for India), and among the many reasons behind the high average age, is the lower fertility rate in Japan. Many economists and sociologists believe that is skewness in Japan is because of high-pressure jobs and therefore delayed pregnancies. The higher average age implies the people are less inclined to invest and buy, leading to slowing down of the Japanese economy (despite being the most competitive export-oriented economy). Therefore, if women are given socio-economic support to manage their maternity and family, there is a high possibility that a sustainable healthy society and country can be created.

Second, the cost of living in big cities is increasing tremendously. The overdrive on the privatization of essential public services has increased the cost of living in big cities. The cost of childcare in big cities is very high, and on the other hand, the quality of affordable childcare in big cities is deficient. This has created a vicious cycle wherein the young couple with meager savings and used to having a particular lifestyle is unable to engage in family planning. They end up delaying the maternity or end up planning for one child for the risk of losing a steady income. Like in Germany, the government must have tax provisions, subsidized childcare provisions for working couples to encourage them to have planned pregnancies.

Working women take a career break for maternity leave. They typically end up losing one full year. If the women are planning to have two children, then most likely they may end up losing two years. Most organizations in India are not willing to extend leave to working women. Besides, the working mothers are always under stress about the health of their young ones until she/he turns 5 years. Unlike men, they are always on alert and on minutes notice to leave their work and rush to the school or creche to take care of their sick child. Most organizations are not willing to accept this necessity of human life. The lack of empathy within an organizational workspace for working mothers (especially those who have toddlers) makes it difficult working women to manage both career and motherhood, which affects the bottomline of the organisation.

Family planning and maternity negatively effect women careers in the long run. Their juniors become their seniors during the period of motherhood and the management is unable to grapple with the change in status of their employees. To effectively ensure level playing field for the women, the management must have empathy towards the women, their role in organization and their position in the society and country. Empathy should be incorporated into how human resources design the career of any women staff. The organizations must involve flexible working time for women, the meetings should be arranged with women as focus (not just client as focus). The technologies which ensure remote working should be used to provide flexibility to women workforce. The variable pay structure taking into account the position of women (with or without the need for childcare) must be taken into account and discussed with the women employees.

The effect on women’s careers within an organization as a result of maternity and childcare should be documented and turned into a “flexible” policy document. The point of view of management ( the inherent corporate bias) should be addressed through proper training sessions, empirically proven corporate policy directions, and counseling. In the end, women have an equal role in making the country and society competitive and an empathetic organization does its part.

  • Written byAnirudh Agrawal

    Anirudh is an associate professor at Flame university India. Previously, he was a doctoral student at Copenhagen business school, development Consultant at Frankfurt school of finance and management and strategy consultant with Tvarit. His research interests are social entrepreneurship, empathy, unemployment problems in India. He loves writing and spending time with his children.


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