By Claire Zillman
September 14, 2017

A fascinating new story in The Atlantic argues that motherhood is not diabolically opposed to creativity, despite plenty of suggestions that it is.

A study of a mother rat, for instance, showed that while pregnant, she was more resourceful, stockpiling whatever materials she could find to make a nest. She was more efficient too, adopting a “more direct and lethal” cricket-hunting tactic.

“Whether rodent or human,” writes the story’s author, Erika Hayasaki, “a mother’s brain requires cognitive, emotional, and behavioral flexibility”—traits that can fuel creativity.

At one point, Hayasaki argues that the frequently-peddled misconception about moms and creativity may contribute to the dearth of women in the arts. But her story got me thinking beyond just creative fields, to the professional world at large. She makes a remarkable case for getting more moms into the workforce. Find me a business that doesn’t want resourceful, innovative minds these days.

And yet, in the U.S., the number of mothers in the workforce peaked around 2000, according to Pew data. Another poll, this one by the New York Times, CBS News, and the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2014, found that that’s not for a lack of desire on women’s part. Nearly two-thirds of nonworking women ages 25 to 54 said family responsibilities were keeping them home. And of women who identified as homemakers and had not searched for a job in the last year, nearly three-quarters said they would consider returning to the workforce if a job allowed for flexible hours or let them work from home.

I’ve written a few stories about Path Forward, a nonprofit that helps companies create internships for (mostly) women who’ve taken time off work to care for children or elderly relatives. The programs not only give the “returnees” a foot in the door and a fresh line on their resumes, they meet a business need, too.

One HR head told me that her company signed on to the program in an effort to recruit “a diverse group of people with different levels of education and experience.” People who have served as caregivers, she said, “bring a unique value” to the workplace.

One woman in Hayasaki’s story, artist Hein Koh (a photo of whom—balancing a computer on her lap with a baby on each breast—went viral last year) hammers this point home. “Becoming a #mom (of twins no less) has personally helped me become a better #artist—I learned to be extremely efficient with my time, prioritize what’s important and let go of the rest, and #multitask like a champ.”

—@clairezillman

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