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Wraparound Strategies for Supporting Black Working Mothers’ Career Success

March 5, 2024

At a Glance

To boost the economy and create conditions for equitable economic advancement for all, employers must focus on the recruitment, retention, and advancement of Black working moms and other populations facing systemic barriers.

Contributors
Destiny Washington Manager
Practices & Centers

Introduction

Employers who implement inclusive talent recruitment, development, and advancement practices provide opportunities for all workers to advance in the workplace and labor market, especially when these approaches include supports that address inequities in access to the conditions for success. Putting supports like this into place not only benefits all workers, particularly those who face systemic barriers to economic advancement, but also businesses and employers. However, this practice is unfortunately not a reality across many jobs and industries today.

In May 2023, Jobs for the Future’s (JFF’s) Center for Racial Economic Equity released a brief detailing the critical role employers play in addressing the social determinants of work—factors and conditions that affect a person’s ability to prepare for and succeed in the workforce. It focuses on Black workers, who are disproportionately impacted by disparities in access to the social determinants of work. In this blog, we dig deeper into the concept of wraparound supports: interventions that address the challenges associated with the social determinants of work. In particular, we examine the critical role employers can play in supporting and advancing Black working mothers, a group that holds the highest labor force participation rates of all working moms.

Despite women experiencing historic labor market gains in 2023, Black women, particularly Black working mothers, continue to face distinct barriers as they navigate the workforce, including racial and gender discrimination. In order to boost the economy and create conditions for equitable economic advancement for all, employers must focus on the recruitment, retention, and advancement of Black working moms and other populations facing systemic barriers, and understand the conditions that contribute to their career success. The benefits of this approach go far beyond Black working mothers alone; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that closing the racial equity gap in business could yield $8 trillion in gross domestic product growth by 2050.

As we outline in JFF’s Call to Action for Achieving Black Economic Equity, providing equitable access to these conditions for success is a key strategy for disrupting occupational segregation and closing the Black-white wealth gap. It’s also an important strategy for developing inclusive talent to meet regional workforce needs. We invite leaders to join us as we develop strategies to expand advancement pathways for Black women with children.

Challenges Impacting Black Working Mothers in the Workplace

Despite outpacing other demographic groups for the past eight years in terms of degree attainment, Black women continue to face barriers to obtaining and advancing in high-wage jobs in growing industries. This disparity has significant impact on Black family wealth overall, since 66 percent of Black women hold equal-earner, primary-earner, or sole-earner roles in their households, compared to 40 percent of mothers overall.

While many of the challenges outlined above merit broad policy solutions, employers can play a powerful role in addressing the specific obstacles Black working mothers face in the workplace. From creating equitable talent management practices that work to reduce occupational segregation to providing opportunities for mentorship that can lead to advancement, many employers have put practices in place that can support all employees who experience barriers to advancement, including Black working moms.

Black women remain alarmingly less likely to have allies in the workplace to advocate for their advancement, which limits their career mobility and prevents them from reaching top leadership positions.

Opportunities & Action Steps from the Field: How Employers Are Supporting Black Working Mothers

As employers home in on how to retain and advance employees in today’s labor market, we see tremendous opportunity for employers to support Black working mothers through the development of accessible and nuanced wraparound supports. Below are a few strategies poised for high impact, along with examples of implementation in the field.

1.  Implement equitable talent practices related to hiring, wages, and advancement, and hold your company accountable in their success.

To promote economic advancement and optimize talent, employers must review their own policies and practices for equity. Specifically, employers must partner with other players in the learn-and-work ecosystem to increase equitable hiring, compensation, and career advancement opportunities for those who have acquired in-demand skills and earned in-demand credentials.

Companies like Kanarys and Eskalera, two businesses highlighted in JFF’s 2022 market scan of tech training providers, both use real-time data to assess employers’ culture. Employers can work with companies like this to address issues and biases that may persist within the business’ hiring and retention practices.

Other actionable steps employers can take include developing a transparent strategy to recruit Black women into the company, partnering with industry-specific networks to enhance the pipeline of Black women candidates, and ensuring interview panels are comprised of employees of diverse backgrounds. Employers should also consider incorporating a variety of voices and perspectives in the conception and delivery of internal professional development programs.

2.  Adopt a holistic support approach when considering the types of supports that would enable your employees to overcome the common challenges of balancing personal life and career.

Learning Care Group (LCG) partners with major brands, including Microsoft and Abbott, to provide employer-sponsored child care benefits to their employees. Recognizing that nearly 50% of working parents miss four workdays every six months due to child care breakdowns, LCG customizes solutions to support employers with retaining their talent.

3.  Institute “family-forward workplace” policies, such as flexible work and scheduling practices, that empower workers to overcome the challenges ascribed to balancing caregiving responsibilities and their careers.

Recognizing that a lack of child care is a major detriment to a robust economy, North Carolina’s Early Childhood Foundation outlined five family-forward policies employers could enact to support working mothers and promote both positive business impact and positive well-being for children. These policies encourage employers to enact flexible work and scheduling accommodations, paid leave, child care, and health benefits.

Bank of America offers a variety of benefits to their women-identifying employees to support them with managing the challenges of work and their personal lives. Supports include tuition benefits, 16 weeks of parental leave, and a range of family care services for employees returning from parental leave, including backup child care and programs to offset child care expenses.

4.  Provide targeted opportunities for employees to build professional social capital.

In a 2022 report by JFF’s Center for Racial Economic Equity, professional social capital was named a key component for unlocking economic advancement, with building relationships and making connections listed as two key strategies for reducing income, employment, advancement, and wealth gaps for Black workers. While mentorship programs are commonplace in many companies, an important factor in supporting Black working moms’ career mobility is to connect them with mentors and sponsors who are in leadership roles and can relate to the challenges of balancing motherhood and career.

Spearheaded in 2014 by the Women on the Move employee initiative, JP Morgan instituted Matching Mothers to Mentors, to connect working mothers with mentors who could provide one-on-one advice and an opportunity for candid dialogue on the challenges and questions tied to balancing motherhood with working.

Ernst & Young (EY) is leaning into the needs of their parental workforce by offering employees the opportunity to join EY’s Today’s Family Network. This resource group addresses the intersectionality of employees by collaborating with EY’s eight employee resource groups (ERGs), including their race-focused ERGs, to understand the nuances of supporting their employees’ career aspirations.

Conclusion

Employers have the ability, and the responsibility, to leverage the talents of and promote career advancement for all employees. In doing so, they can also promote racial and gender economic equity. As Black working mothers are still facing greater economic inequity due to factors like pay inequality, lack of career advancement support, and expansive gaps in access to child care; we call upon employers to implement these action steps in a way that is intersectional to meet the needs of all workers but especially for Black working mothers.

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