Working Mothers: The Juggle is Real

A new affinity group at Duke provides support to mothers, along with Duke’s targeted caregiver benefits

Graphic of several women in profile

“You do have these pivotal moments in your kids’ lives, and your kids’ lives are the part that really, really matters,” said McMahon, who has two teenage children. “You’ve got to be able to keep the balance in perspective, even when – especially when –  the work is very demanding.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women now make up 47% of the U.S. labor force, and United States Census Bureau data says working mothers account for 32% of all employed women. Women’s History Month, which concludes this week, helps to highlight and celebrate the accomplishments of women in the workforce as the number of women in the labor force has grown from 20% in 1920.

At Duke, where 67% of the workforce is women, working moms can find support through the “Duke Moms” affinity group that strives to retain University and Health System employees who identify as mothers, benefits aimed specifically at supporting caregivers and families, and colleagues and supervisors who understand the challenges of juggling a career and family life.

Working Moms at Duke

Two years ago, Amneste Bynum-Brake was overwhelmed with the paperwork she needed to fill out for her maternity leave as a Medical Assistant at the Duke Pulmonary of Raleigh. She worried she was missing something or doing it wrong.

Amneste Bynum-Brake poses with her two young children at Duke Moms event.
Amneste Bynum-Brake poses with her children at a Duke Moms event earlier this year. Photo courtesy of Duke Moms

Bynum-Brake searched for support and connected with Katie Watkins, an IT Portfolio Manager at Duke Health Technology Solutions. Watkins had recently come back from her own maternity leave, and successfully lobbied to expand her department’s lactation room – then developed an online scheduling system for the six new moms she worked alongside to use it without conflict.

The two teamed with Elizabeth Pickering, a Program Coordinator in Culture and Wellbeing, and in 2023, formed Duke Moms, an affinity group whose mission statement says it provides “an inclusive environment for employees who identify as moms or moms-to-be and create a culture of support and advocacy.” In the past year, the group opened to staff and faculty at the University, and membership has ballooned to more than 200.

Duke Moms’ main goal is to improve and streamline benefits for working mothers, but they also gather for fun events, like a recent Family Day at Durham’s Museum of Life and Science, to mingle.

Because moms like Bynum-Brake and Watkins understand that sometimes only other caregivers understand exactly what they’re going through.

“I want to be that person who can help another mom that's going on maternity leave, make sure that they have sufficient paperwork and they know exactly what they need to do,” said Bynum-Brake, who has three young children.

Added Watkins: “I know that other moms are having the same issues and the same questions that I had and that some of my co-workers had. So, how do we support each other through this motherhood journey?”

A Need for Supportive Peers and Supervisors

Duke Moms group members have identified a gap in knowledge for maternity and postpartum resources in the workplace, as well as a sense of community in supporting working parents as two of the biggest issues facing working mothers.

A step toward understanding is having people in leadership like McMahon.

That is, other working moms.

Mary Pat McMahon poses with her children during lunch at Brodhead Center
Mary Pat McMahon takes a break during lunch with her children at Brodhead Center to snap a selfie. Photo courtesy of Mary Pat McMahon

McMahon speaks from experience when she says she appreciates the challenges of juggling family life with a demanding career. Her two children are now teenagers, but the memories of early motherhood are still fresh.

“That early, young-child, working-mom life involves just endless amounts of disruption,” she said.

Sick kids, conflicts with schedules and simply wanting to spend time with children while they’re young and growing can trouble working moms who want to succeed in the workplace.

Nearly 50 years ago, Eleanor Smeal, a 1961 graduate of Duke and former three-term president of the National Organization for Women, remembers similar difficulties when she embarked on a career as an activist for women’s rights. She was so frustrated by the lack of child care options near her suburban Pittsburgh home in the 1970s, that she simply started her own. She’s seen improvements in support for working moms over the years, of course, but it took a long time to get there.

“We're half the talent of the world,” Smeal, now 84, said, “and to push us into a very narrow zone was very costly for civilization.”

How Duke Helps Working Moms

Duke was listed this year by Newsweek as one of the “America's Greatest Workplaces for Women.” That recognition was in part thanks to benefits that include opportunities to grow with the help of professional development programs and educational benefits, such as the expanded Employee Tuition Assistance Program, and robust healthretirement and time off benefits.

Duke Moms members pose with their kids at Durham's Museum of LIfe and Science.
Members of Duke Moms smile with their children during a break at a social outing at Durham's Museum of Life and Science. Photo courtesy of Duke Moms

In recent years, Duke has expanded its parental leave benefit and increased the number of lactation spaces on campus.

McMahon also appreciates the informal benefits that Duke offers her family, too. Her 15-year-old adores theater, while her 13-year-old daughter is a huge sports fan. McMahon remembers one day last year when her husband took her oldest child to a Rhiannon Giddens concert at Baldwin Auditorium, while she accompanied her youngest to a men’s basketball game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“The big advantage to working at Duke is having the ability for your family and your kids to partake in the enrichment and the big ideas,” she said.

All of the support and benefits makes the juggling act for working moms the tiniest bit easier.

“It is difficult,” said Bynum-Brake, who has 10-, 7- and 2-year-olds, “but we always put on our ‘Mom Cape,’ and we tie it up, and we just keep going.”

Employees interested in joining “Duke Moms” can find the group on Microsoft Teams or email

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