Labor After Labor: Why Barriers for Working Mothers are Barriers for the Economy


Policymakers, businesses and entrepreneur support organizations can drive policy and cultural changes necessary to fulfill the promise of entrepreneurship for mothers

With Mother’s Day approaching, families nationwide are looking for ways to celebrate moms. A new paper by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation out today urges policymakers, employers and entrepreneur support organizations to honor moms in the workforce and starting businesses by adapting policies that reduce the “double whammy” of challenges these moms face.

“Pay inequity, lack of flexibility for family needs and a ‘second shift’ of household duties adds to the challenges of being a woman in the workplace,” said Alex Krause, research analyst at the Kauffman Foundation and coauthor of the paper, ‘Labor after Labor.’” “Yet, while entrepreneurship offers opportunities, mothers who start companies face other barriers, such as cognitive biases.”

Policy change is necessary to allow women to continue their contributions to the U.S. economy, both as employees and as mothers, asserts Emily Fetsch, research assistant at the Kauffman Foundation and coauthor of the paper. “Women make essential contributions as employees, entrepreneurs and parents. They need more support, not more obstacles.”

Women have been in the workplace for decades, but policies have not adapted to address the discrimination and absence of family-friendly policies that hinder working mothers, the report says. Mothers who start companies gain autonomy, but research shows they encounter many of the same challenges women employees do, as well as others specific to entrepreneurship. Mother entrepreneurs face negative stereotypes regarding their skill levels, higher financial barriers, increased family conflict, a lack of supportive mentors and peers and difficulty realizing the work-life balance that attracted them to business ownership in the first place.

Policy changes and culture shifts are necessary not only to make entrepreneurship work for mothers, but also to respond to overall changes in the nature of work in the last decade. Traditional, 9-to-5 jobs are declining, and are replaced with arrangements like the gig economy, where more people are self-employed, finding short-term assignments or renting resources through various platforms, such as Uber, Airbnb and Task Rabbit. The millennial generation, entering parenthood, is demanding greater work-life balance and flexibility for parenting responsibilities not seen in previous generations.

Labor after Labor, the first in a new Kauffman Foundation series of reports on entrepreneurship and motherhood, recommends baseline changes necessary to allow mother entrepreneurs to balance work and family life:

  • Employers and policymakers should address parental leave – including leave for new fathers – subsidized childcare and part-time employment, all of which are associated with better outcomes for women entrepreneurs.
  • Companies should reconsider the traditional work week. Nearly two-thirds of millennials would like to work from home (64 percent) or change their work hours (66 percent).
  • Research should explore the economic impact and policy implications of the growing trend of independent, “employer-less” work to determine whether it might create efficiencies and whether greater work-life balance may be an economic benefit.
  • Entrepreneurship support organizations (ESOs) should make it easy for parents to attend activities by arranging events at times that fit parents’ schedules, providing childcare. ESOs also could create work spaces with on-site childcare, locate in areas where parents live, work to recruit mentors that can respond to the challenges of mother entrepreneurs and offer counseling services to help families resolve the conflicts entrepreneurship creates.
  • Policymakers, ESOs and the community at large should promote and celebrate mother entrepreneurs who have been successful in both business and family life.