Serena Williams wants more companies to hire mothers, so she joined a startup that’s making it happen

Serena Williams announced on Wednesday that she will serve as strategic advisor for the Mom Project, a platform that connects mothers with employment opportunities.

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Serena Williams announced on Wednesday that she will serve as strategic advisor for the Mom Project, a platform that connects mothers with employment opportunities.
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Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
  • In the US, 34% of women leave their jobs after having a child, a decision often made in large part due to inflexible work schedules and exorbitant childcare costs.
  • But getting a job after taking a hiatus is particularly challenging for mothers who are often perceived as “less competent” than women without children, studies show.
  • Tennis icon Serena Williams is hoping to improve job opportunities for mothers by joining the Mom Project, a platform that connects mothers with viable job opportunities.
  • “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a team of one or 100,000,” Williams said in a press release on Wednesday, “if you’re hiring, are you considering hiring moms?
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

They may be waiting longer to do it, but women are more likely now to become mothers than they were a decade ago. Despite the rise, mothers who want to work outside the home are often punished by employers.

Studies show that after a woman has a child, she’s perceived to be “less competent.” Managers are also often less interested in hiring, promoting, and educating a working mother compared to a woman without children. Stay-at-home moms are also about half as likely to get a callback for a job as another parent who was laid off, according to a 2018 study.

Such discrimination is counter-intuitive since studies also show that employees become better, more efficient workers after becoming a parent.

Tennis icon and maternal health advocate Serena Williams is fed up with this trend, and determined to help improve mothers’ opportunities in the workplace. She has a plan to make it happen.

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Williams announced on Wednesday that she’s signed on as strategic advisor with the Mom Project, a platform that connects mothers with desirable job opportunities where they won’t be penalized for their parenting obligations.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a team of one or 100,000; if you’re hiring, are you considering hiring moms?” Williams said in a press release, addressing business leaders. “Together, we can influence how work gets done and build a better workplace for the future.”

Allison Robinson came up with the idea for the Mom Project while on maternity leave with her first child from her sales job in 2016. That’s when she became aware of how common it is for women to take a break from working after having a child and how difficult it is for them to gain reentry.

“I saw an enormous opportunity – an economic opportunity to help more women find work that would satisfy them professionally and personally,” Robinson told Insider. “It’s just the right thing to do and it’s good business.”

34% of mothers stop working after having a child

In the US, 34% of mothers leave their jobs after having a child, according to a 2017 report from Ovia Health, a group that works to foster more family-friendly work environments. Of those women, 11% go on to get a job with a new employer.

There are a number of drivers behind this trend. While it’s true that some mothers want to spend the newborn period with their babies, there are also preclusive financial factors at play.

Childcare is prohibitively expensive for many families in the US.

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Childcare is prohibitively expensive for many families in the US.
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Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Childcare costs are astronomical in the US. In many states, the expense is higher than college tuition, meaning mothers may not even be able to afford to work.

On top of that, there’s the “motherhood penalty.” The wage gap between men and women increases after a woman has a child, and translates into $16,000 in lost wages annually. The US is also the only developed country in the world without mandated paid maternity leave. Some mothers may be eligible for three months of unpaid time off during which time their job is protected. After that, layoffs are fair game.

So, it makes sense that mothers with young children are less likely to have jobs outside of the home than a mom with older children.

The Mom Project is working to foster employment opportunities for mothers at all stages of their careers by serving as a job matchmaker of sorts. The platform connects employment-seeking mothers with companies that may have flexible work hours, part-time work, and supportive benefits.

Mom Project members are looking for both flexibility and respect in the workplace

“She’s got great professional experience,” Robinson said of the typical Mom Project member. “She’s looking for flexibility and an employer who gets it and respects her as a mother.”

To date, the company has 200,000 moms in its marketplace and has connected mothers to $50 million in economic opportunities. Some participating companies include Facebook, Nike, Invesco, Etsy, Gap, Delta, Uber, and Twitter.

The Mom Project with across a range of sectors with a number of companies, including Uber, Nike, and Twitter.

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The Mom Project with across a range of sectors with a number of companies, including Uber, Nike, and Twitter.
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Hollis Johnson

The tech and consulting industries have been especially friendly to working mothers, but that’s spreading across a number of fields, Robinson said.

Robinson said it was a “dream” to have Williams, her role model, join her team. She particularly appreciates how open the mother of one was about her own personal trials, sharing with the world how she nearly died after giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, in 2017.

It makes sense that Williams was drawn to the Mom Project. Last year, she launched Serena Ventures, a venture-capital firm that primarily supports companies led by women and people of color. One of the companies was Mahmee, a platform that aims to improve pre- and postnatal care for mothers.

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Williams learned about the Mom Project from her husband, Alexis Ohanian, a staunch advocate for paid family leave and Mom Project supporter.

Ohanian, also the founder of Reddit, started Initialized, a venture capitalist firm, which is now a lead investor in the Mom Project.

“We believed in [the] mission from the beginning, to build a better workplace for mothers,” Ohanian told Insider in an email. “‘Business moms’ are a vast and valuable resource companies have not been able to tap into before the Mom Project.”