Imagine interviewing a candidate for a job: She left her earlier job at the peak of her career for a mission to Mars to conduct research that saved humankind. She’s succeeded and wants to join a company where she can apply all the skills and knowledge she’s gained, not to mention the strength, resilience and ability to solve problems in the face of adversity and uncertainty. Of course you would want her on your team.

Now, what if the mission were the same—survival of our species—but the destination was motherhood instead of Mars? Would your high level of enthusiasm remain? Probably not, even if I told you the health of our global economy depends on having women in it.

This cultural bias, called “the motherhood penalty,” results in systematic disadvantages in employment, pay, benefits and advancement opportunities for women with kids. So powerful is its effect, even women without children are punished.

The case for returnships

In the U.S., 81 percent of women become moms by age 44, yet women with kids are excluded from most corporate diversity efforts. While there’s copious evidence substantiating the benefits of an inclusive workforce—more effective teams, greater innovation, and higher financial returns—many tech companies continue to push out women at mid-career with work cultures that are incompatible with motherhood.

“Annually, women account for $7 trillion in consumer and business spending and drive 85 percent of all purchasing decisions. Mothers alone represent a $2.4 trillion market.”

According to McKinsey & Company, parity in workforce participation between women and men will add $12 trillion to the global economy by 2025, including a 10 percent increase in U.S. GDP. Such parity would bring $25 billion to tech-heavy Silicon Valley, where there’s a persistent gender gap.

For the growing percentage of millennial parents in the workforce, implementing policies that support parents, such as paid parental leave, flexible schedules and childcare reimbursement, need to be just as high-priority as creating pathways for those wanting to return after pausing their career.

The power of moms

Motherhood is a widely shared human experience, affecting women across race and ethnicity, religion, socio-economics and sexual orientation. Innovative companies, such as PayPal, Intel and IBM, are proving that returnships are effective in bringing mothers back to the workforce, and there’s good reason to focus on mothers, specifically.

Annually, women account for $7 trillion in consumer and business spending and drive 85 percent of all purchasing decisions. Mothers alone represent a $2.4 trillion market. Moms are more than a niche consumer group, and often make loyal customers who adopt technology quickly. Furthermore, 40 percent of the 40.7 million American women between the ages of 25 to 44 and with kids also have college degrees—exceeding the rate of men in that age group.

Companies worldwide spend $49 billion per year to rehire and retrain people to replace mothers who don’t return after maternity leave, an astounding yet mostly preventable loss in financial and human capital. Integrating them into your diversity and inclusion efforts will enhance retention and recruitment, and lead you to new markets and product innovations.