How One Woman Made Helping Moms Find Flexible Work Into a Booming Business

 

Allison Robinson had plenty of experience with moms and their concerns before she had a child herself. As the leader of the innovation team at Pampers North America, she was dedicated to understanding how being a mom is different now compared with generations before. While technology and health advancements may have advanced enormously in recent decades, she couldn't miss one thing that hasn't improved: Women still drop out of the workforce in huge numbers when they have children, and women are penalized financially for becoming mothers while their male counterparts actually get a bonus.

After starting The Mom Project last year, Robinson has dedicated herself to finding ways to convince companies to increase flexibility and hire qualified women who come to the Mom Project. Virtually everyone agrees that America needs to overhaul its family leave and child care system from top to bottom, but politicians are still at odds over how to make changes. That leaves women to negotiate for themselves—a potentially daunting prospect and one that Robinson told Glamour she wants to make easier by connecting women looking for work with clients already interested in flexible work arrangements.

What's the biggest lesson Robinson's learned over the past year? "My son's only one, so I now have a full appreciation for how hard it is to be a working mom," she said. "I think I've learned a lot about just how to make this work and we're learning as we go."

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Glamour: Tell me a little bit about yourself and what led you to start The Mom Project.

Allison Robinson: I actually started The Mom Project while I was on maternity leave. I most recently had been leading the innovation team for Pampers North America. When I was on leave with my son, I came across this statistic in the Harvard Business Review, which was really sobering: 43 percent of highly qualified women leave the workforce after they have children, either permanently or they off-ramp with the intention to go back. That was the catalyst for me creating it. We launched April of last year.

Glamour: When you’ve worked with companies, have you seen any of their policies or approaches to work in general shift after working with you?

AR: I think it shifts habits that someone doesn't have to be in an office nine to five. I think traditionally our workplace has rewarded those that spend a disproportionate amount of time in office. I think we've been able to show productivity is just as high, if not higher, by allowing for flexibility. Whether that means working from home one day a week or five days a week, it's really just evolving beyond those entrenched mind-sets throughout an organization. Success breeds success.

Glamour: What's been the most surprising thing that you discovered over the course of getting the business up and running?

AR: My son's only one, so I now have a full appreciation for how hard it is to be a working mom. I would say generally, starting a business is really hard. I think I probably underestimated how hard that would be. I live the model that I'm preaching to the companies. Everyone on my team has incredible flexibility in the way that they manage their schedules. I think I've learned a lot about just how to make this work and are learning as we go.

Glamour: I want to talk a little bit of the role of the outside support system, like partnerships or family members or other parents.

AR: As I look at it, I think there's really three structural things that have to happen to narrow the gender pay gap, and they all involve including men in the discussion. The more that we make it only a women’s topic, we only perpetuate it. The first thing is flexibility, which is something that certainly I focus on. The second is paid parental leave. The other is child care. I would say this continues to be a huge barrier. As you look at the average working mom in the U.S., I believe now more babies are born into single-family households than not. 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.

Glamour: What do you hope for the next year, given the difference between when you started the company and where things are now?

AR: Totally. We're really focused on helping women navigate throughout that arc of their career. As I think about the years ahead, it's really continuing to create these flexible work opportunities, so I spend a lot of time with very senior leaders of organizations talking about how we can think about human capital and accessing this very critical talent pool is number one. I also ask myself, how can we better serve our community? How can we help advocate for critical issues like child care, paid parental leave?

Glamour: What have been some of the bigger challenges that you've faced?

AR: I think the reality is, as I've experienced, as have so many other women in my community, is that it's tougher being a woman in many cases. Whether it be cognitive bias or other responsibilities we have—those are issues I've faced firsthand. I think you have people that are thinking of things only from a purely financial lens, and they don't care so much about the social welfare aspect. I think it's just reframing the discussion in a way that just knowing your audience has been an important learning for me.

Glamour: That's something I've always thought was really fascinating about arguments against more humane workplaces, because maybe it's a hit to your short-term profit at that moment, but doesn't long-term employee retention and satisfaction end up being better for your bottom line?

AR: Absolutely. You look at what happened in Google when they increased their parental leave policy. They doubled their retention of parents. I think it's really: For people that care less about the social goodwill, how do you quantify it in terms of [return on investment]? I was sharing this in another meeting. Someone said, "Don't talk about this to me in the context of work-life balance. Talk to me in the context of productivity." I think it's just understanding being empathetic to where other people are coming from.

Glamour: Let's get into the video.

AR: An insight that was really interesting in my team was that as you looked at the gender pay gap, women are exiting college earning nearly the same rate as their male counterparts. It's really when we enter our late twenties, midthirties, and start having children that the gap really widens. I thought, Well, that's interesting. The alarming piece of it was that while the gender pay gap is narrowing, progress isn't being made in terms of the motherhood penalty. You see that come to life in the video.

"Mom Up" is the name of our campaign. Basically, we're directing people to MomUpAmerica.com, and we have a really cool widget that populates your senators and your congressmen. You can send along a petition that's asking for paid family leave, child care rebates, and for business-supported flexible work arrangements.

Glamour: It also just seems like it'll be better for everyone if we create this. It's not just parents that end up benefiting when a workplace decides to take into account that everyone has different needs.

AR: Yeah. I think a big issue is even if companies have the programs, they sit on a shelf, and it's so dependent upon your manager as to whether or not you feel encouraged to be able to participate. That's also something that we really encourage companies. Have this be a top-down initiative where no one feels like they're gonna be penalized for taking advantage of these programs.

Glamour: Give me a list of three things that you feel like would be big victories, that you could move the needle on in the next year or two or three.

AR: I would say first, if we can see some policy changes on child care and paid family leave, those will have the most sweeping benefits. Number two is evolving the workplace to make it friendlier to people who are balancing multiple responsibilities, whether that be young children at home or aging parents or both. How do we really actually make the workplace friendlier? Then three, I would say we continue to evolve our community. We know that there's a lot of other pain points for moms. That's something that we're really trying to focus on, understanding their evolving needs and how we can help address some of them.

 

 

By: Meredith Clark

Source: glamour.com