Kristen Brown founder of Hoot Design Company, a creative branding agency.

Most people understand that women face various struggles in the workplace, whether they’re related to pay, sexism or promotional opportunities. However, men—and even women—might overlook how persisting assumptions about mothers affect how their commitment and abilities are perceived in the workplace. According to a 2018 study from Bright Horizons, 41% of U.S. workers reported seeing mothers as less devoted to the job, and 38% said they judge mothers for requiring a work schedule that’s more flexible. These attitudes are presumably felt in the workplace, with one in four working moms saying they are concerned about their co-workers’ perceptions. In addition, 78% of mothers stated that to attain a leadership role in the workplace, they feel they have to prove themselves more than others do.

Since not everyone has experienced motherhood, many may not be aware of what kind of maternity benefits are offered or how their company culture might exclude moms. In the U.S., paid maternity leave is not a federally protected right. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows some employees to utilize unpaid, job-protected leave, but this framework doesn’t provide mothers with consistent support. Additional benefits like flexible hours and paid time off aren’t guaranteed either, leaving mothers in tough situations, depending on the quality of their benefits.

As someone who has always been ambitious and driven, Kristen Brown didn’t expect motherhood to have such a lasting impact on her ability to work and accelerate her career. After giving birth to her first child in 2011, and her second two years later, she encountered significant struggles and had a wake-up call to the reality of how mothers can be treated by employers.

This experience motivated Brown to build Hoot Design Company—a creative branding agency based in Missouri—from the ground up, with the aim of inspiring other companies to be more inclusive of mothers. The founder takes pride in Hoot’s female-led team, which is determined to make a difference. The agency specializes in branding and frequently educates clients on this topic.

According to Brown, even the most ethical companies struggle to understand how culture and values are the foundation of consistent and unique branding. “Kindness and transparency are lovely values to include on your website and in social media, but if you’re not working to put systems and processes in place that avoid exclusionary behavior, your culture is not going to be what you want it to be,” she says.

While the most profitable companies may state wonderful tenets for their employees, the reality that workers experience may actually be the opposite. “Hoot helps businesses understand that culture must be intentionally cultivated by defining your purpose, values, and how employees transform through the application of those principles,” Brown says.

Brown believes Hoot is raising the standards of its industry by advocating for attractive benefits for mothers in its own workplace and beyond. For its employees, the company says it offers moms a paid 12-week maternity leave policy, work-from-home Tuesdays and a no-meetings day. The agency also claims to have a proprietary “life support” system where employees are reimbursed for services that buy back time for family and personal needs on a monthly basis. Brown feels these inclusive policies demonstrate that mothers are not only accepted but also warmly welcomed at Hoot.

Research from the Center for American Progress indicates that over 40% of mothers—both single and married—are the sole or primary breadwinner for their household, earning at least half of their family’s income. This trend can reasonably be expected to endure as women continue to work and make meaningful contributions to modern society. Brown hopes that more organizations will consider these cultural shifts when examining their branding and internal culture and create working environments where women don’t have to choose between their professional and personal aspirations.

APG

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