The Best Companies For Working Moms Show How Support For Moms Is A Privilege, Not A Right

by JR Thorpe

The Working Mother 100 Best Companies list, which ranks the top 100 workplaces in America for women who are also mothers, has released its 2017 edition, and it's revealed interesting data about mother-friendly businesses — and just what it takes to find an accepting employer. The 100 best companies, all of whom applied to be surveyed by Working Mother magazine, scored highly on things like parental leave, adoption aid, flexible working, childcare policies and benefits. So far, so good, but the corporate, highly skilled nature of many companies on the list makes it clear that, in the modern U.S., a supportive employer only really exists for certain types of working mothers.

The U.S. is classified as one of the least supportive countries in the world when it comes to maternity leave legislation, though the companies on the 2017 list do have helpful internal policies. But help for working moms goes far beyond just the period after the baby's born, and the Working Mother survey looked at everything from egg freezing coverage under company benefits, to phase-back programs for employees who've given birth. If this sounds like an unimaginable fantasy to you, it's likely because the 100 companies on this list work in a very specific area of the American economy, and moms who don't work in those sectors — or who don't have access to those sectors — are going to miss out.

Education, Expertise & Geography Narrow The Choices For Working Mothers

The companies who make up the top 100 are not small. The survey reveals that altogether, they operate in 28,000 locations across the U.S. and employ around 2 million people. The top 10 includes the Bank of America, Deloitte, Unilever, IBM, and Ernst & Young, all large corporations employing people with sophisticated skills. (Being in technology, notably, doesn't guarantee a spot on the list; Google and Facebook are conspicuously absent.)

100 percent of these firms offer maternity leave, as opposed to a dismal 30 percent of all American firms, according to the survey. 93 percent of them offer adoption assistance, 86 percent offer a phase-back program for women returning to work after having a child, 100 percent offer flexible work, 92 percent offer back-up childcare, and 69 percent offer help for IVF in their benefits package. But this snapshot reveals that top-tier supportive workplaces for working mothers are currently restricted to a small elite.

To have your highest chance of a supportive workplace, particular one in the top 10, you'll likely need to be based in an urban center where such companies have outposts, possess at least a bachelor's degree, and possess specific education and training in a white-collar industry. In March 2016, the quantity of women with a bachelor's degree in the U.S. was only 33 percent of the population. Women who've got less education, different skills, live in more remote areas of the country, or are trained in other industries are missing out. And that's bad news, because being able to function as a woman with children in a workplace needs to be a right, not an optional extra for those who happen to be in the right industry. Corporate jobs are also vastly dominated by white people; a study of 500 of America's top corporations in 2015 found that 27.4 percent of their employees were white women, compared to 2.4 percent Asian women and 7.4 percent Black women.

Corporate jobs also aren't all they're cracked up to be. While women in the top 100 Working Mother jobs are receiving good benefits, they're also likely encountering gender pay gaps. In 2016, the Wall Street Journal found that women across many "elite" occupations in the U.S., from medicine to finance, suffer from stubborn pay gaps that aren't improving, while women in blue collar industries are slightly better off. They might earn more overall, but women in corporate America are still not getting their due.

What can be done about these gaps? Legislation mandating childcare, maternity and paternity leave, and other relevant aspects of workplace policy would be a big step in the right direction. It would mean that companies of all sizes would have to think about taking care of their employees who happen to be working moms — not just the corporations big enough to afford it. Every working mother at every company deserves not just adequate, but strong support; it's a shame that the U.S. doesn't require that everybody gets it.