Vault's Working Parent Survey: Do Women Even Want It All?

Published: May 09, 2013

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Can women have it all? Do women want it all? What do women have to sacrifice to have it all? If women could do it all over again, would they stay at home after having children? Stay at their jobs? Work less? More? Are working mothers happy with their employers? Ticked off at them? If so, why? And what can and should employers do differently to accommodate working mothers? 

These are just a few of the questions Vault aimed to address last month when surveying more than 1,000 professionals in our first ever Working Parent Survey. In April, Vault asked professionals a variety of questions on working parent-related workplace topics, including paid and unpaid maternity leave, on-site child care, flex-time options, and health insurance.

As for the survey’s demographics, of the women who took our survey (we also surveyed men and plan to publish those results in a few weeks), a majority are married or partnered. Respondents vary in age from their early 20s to over 60, with the bulk of participants in their 30s, and working in full-time positions in the accounting, consulting, and law industries; a smaller percentage work in education, technology, health care, and other sectors.  As for the mothers who took our survey, 84 percent have one or two children; 1 percent have more than five. 

As for the findings of our survey, 40 percent of the respondents told us that their firms offer at least 10 weeks of paid maternity leave, while more than 20 percent say they’re offered no paid leave. Which, if you’re a working mother or plan to be, should be very disconcerting. In addition, many respondents told us that being a stay-at-home mother isn’t even an option due to finances. Even so, many admit that a stay-at-home mother isn’t something they want to be (see below for some of the reasons why not). 

With respect to services that employers offer mothers, flex-time options seem to be very prevalent (and much appreciated), while on-site child care is less prevalent. As for which industries are the most accommodating to working mothers, accounting comes out on top according to survey respondents (the Big 4 accounting firms are well known for their generous maternity leaves), while the law and consulting industries (in which professionals typically work many hours and/or travel often) are said to be the least accommodating. We were also told that the best big city for working mothers is Washington, D.C., while New York is the worst.

Below you’ll find additional findings from the survey. (Note that those questions beginning with an asterisk are followed solely by the answers of mothers who took our survey; all other questions include answer data for all women—mothers and non-mothers).



Marital status:
Married: 78%
Widowed: 1%

22-24: 2%
25-29: 13%
30-34: 26%
35-39: 24%
40-44: 17%
45-49: 7%
50-59: 9%
60+: 1%

Employment status
Full time: 83%
Part time: 14%
Unemployed: 2%
Retired: <1%

In which industry do you work?
Law: 26%
Accounting: 14%
Consulting: 10%
Education: 8%
Banking/Finance: 5%
Healthcare: 5%
Human Resources: 5%
Technology: 5%
Nonprofit: 3%

*How many children do you have?
One: 40%
Two: 44%
Three: 12%
Four: 3%
Five+: 1%



How much PAID maternity leave does your firm offer?
None: 21%
1 to 3 weeks: 5%
4 to 6 weeks: 19%
7 to 9 weeks: 8%
10 to 12 weeks: 24%
> 12 weeks: 22%

How much UNPAID maternity leave does your firm offer?
None: 10%
1 to 3 weeks: 4%
4 to 6 weeks: 10%
7 to 9 weeks: 3%
10 to 12 weeks: 32%
> 12 weeks: 41%

Rate the following benefits offered by your employer on a scale of 1 to 10: 
Flex-time options: 7.69
Health insurance: 6.97
Maternity leave: 6.80
Paternity leave: 5.51

Maternity leave …
… at my firm is amazing. They offer six weeks full pay, plus you can use your 22 days of vacation on top of state disability benefits.
… is 18 weeks paid, and I know people have taken more time, but at that point it’s more like a leave of absence.
… is short-term disability (medical). There’s no paid time off for taking care of a child.
… is considered under our short-term disability policy, and that’s why it’s paid time off. Paternity and adoption are not considered a disability or medical leave and thus don’t qualify for paid time off.

… is eight weeks on top of what the state provides for disability (which for me was six weeks). So I got 14 weeks paid. I was able to take up to six months off and maintain health benefits. And I could have taken more time off without benefits. Paternity leave is three weeks.

Does your employer offer on-site child care?
No: 66%
Yes: 29%
Don’t know: 4%

*Have you ever left your career to become a stay-at-home mom? 
No: 78%
Yes: 22%

Would you consider leaving your career to become a stay-at-home mom?
No: 46%
Yes: 36%
Not sure: 18%

*Being a stay-at-home mom …
… provides short-term benefits in terms of saving on child care and being with your child, but has tremendous long-term negative consequences, essentially permanently derailing your career.
… is more difficult than my current job.
… would be great, but in these economic times is a luxury. You either have to have a super-successful spouse, or be committed to reducing any and all luxuries from your budget.
… is not an option since I’m the main breadwinner in my family.
… would have been nice when my son was younger, but that wasn’t a financial option for me, and it still isn’t. However, now that my son is older and starting middle school next year, there isn't much of a point in being a stay-at-home mom.
… was a great experience. I was at home with my daughter for the first 16 months of her life.
… was wonderful. But I was ready to go back to work after a year.

Does your employer offer flex-time options?
Yes: 73%
No: 23%
Don’t know: 4%

Do you take advantage of your firm’s flex-time options?
Mothers who answered yes: 80%
Non-mothers who answered yes: 52%

My employer …
… provides more parenting benefits than I could ever have imagined.
… is probably one of the more generous ones in terms of maternity leave and job flexibility, but advertising is very stressful, and I found that I missed out on a lot of my first child's development after I went back to work after 12 weeks.
… is very liberal with parental leave, but single, childless employees usually get the worst working hours and last choice of vacation.
… doesn't show any appreciation for employees with children. I hardly spend my time with my son because I don't want to lose my job.
… plays the politically correct game, saying all the right things, but at the end of the day your reward depends on making a tremendous sacrifice, or gaming the system. If you're not willing to do that, your career will suffer.
… offers decent policies compared to other American companies, but compared to where they should be, they’re horrid.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how accommodating is your employer of working mothers?
(Women based in) Washington, D.C.: 7.44
Chicago: 7.38
Los Angeles: 7.06
Boston: 7.05
San Francisco: 6.50
New York: 5.96

On a scale of 1 to 10, how accommodating is your employer of working mothers?
(Women who work in) Accounting: 7.66
Finance & Banking: 6.96
Education: 6.758
Law: 6.45
Consulting: 6.44

*Mothers and Big Law
… As far as Big Law firms go, my firm does as good as any to accoommodate working mothers. Unfortunately, Big Law and being a parent are a tough combination due to client demands.
… After I came back from maternity leave, I left my firm. Working as an associate while having a young child wasn't possible. I could either be a good employee or a good parent, not both. There were simply not enough hours in the day. Working as an in-house lawyer has proven to be much better.
… My husband’s a stay-at-home dad. I don't have the temperment to be a stay-at-home mom, but our current arrangement works well for us, especially given my hectic schedule as a deal lawyer.
… Finding a position as an attorney that will allow part-time work is very difficult. Most firms don't seem to offer this type of arrangement. So I feel very fortunate to have found a firm that's flexible.
… Paid maternity leave is 18 weeks, then you can tack on vacation time until it runs out, and then you can use unpaid time—for a total of six months. Law firm maternity leaves are the most generous I've ever heard of.

*Consulting and mothering
… Traditionally, consulting is not a good career choice for young families. It may require extensive travel, and some still believe you must “live” with your clients in order to bill for your time. However, there are some consulting firms out there that are successfully breaking this norm. Their consultants only travel as needed and are able to work from home.
… I love my work, and I love that I’m able to do it with two young kids. Most consulting companies are not like this one.
… I would not recommend my previous employer in banking; women there who had kids were either fired or seriously sidelined. But my current role in consulting gives me incredible flexibility outside of the travel required. This is a special arrangement, though, and is an exception.
… Success in consulting with children at home can be achieved, but it’s not without its downside. The reality is that client demands will impede on personal time, and there are no real "set" hours.
… Overall, my company is very good about letting everyone balance their work and personal lives. However, consulting is very demanding on time, so it's a challenge to stay responsible and productive within the time constraints of work and family schedules.

Would you recommend your employer to working mothers?
Yes: 72%
No: 28%

A previous version of this post did not include the fact that the Working Parent Survey also surveyed men, and that we plan to publish those results in a few weeks.

Follow me on Twitter: @vaultfinance.

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