Laura Baena
Ashoka Fellow since 2022   |   Spain

Laura Baena

Club de las Malas Madres y Asociación Yo No Renuncio
Laura envisions a society where no women need to give up on their career or their family when motherhood arrives. Laura is reshaping the social definition of maternity in society, changing the…
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This description of Laura Baena's work was prepared when Laura Baena was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2022.


Laura envisions a society where no women need to give up on their career or their family when motherhood arrives. Laura is reshaping the social definition of maternity in society, changing the labor-maternal system by working with all the actors of civil society and public institutions.

The New Idea

Caregiving is a responsibility that requires essential emotional skills such as empathy, patience, dedication, creativity, and active listening. However, one of the main characteristics of reproductive work is invisibility, as neither mothers nor society gives this role the credit it deserves. The burden of reproductive work continues to fall largely on women, with little or no measures that ensure work-life balance. In Spain, 6 out of 10 women give up their professional careers because they are mothers, while 7 out of 10 give up having more children due to the lack of conciliation measures.

For this reason, Laura has created Yo no Renuncio (“I’m not giving up”), in order to bring together the citizen sector, companies and politicians and build a society where no women need to give up on their career or their family when motherhood arrives. Laura, with Yo no Renuncio, has increased the awareness of more than a million women in Spain, who have been systematically penalized for the mere fact of being mothers. Laura has turned them into a community of changemakers who are taking action to change the status quo of the labor-maternal system, demanding conciliation measures and co-responsibility. She calls this community Malas Madres (Bad Mothers), reversing the common imaginary and culture around the stereotype of the perfect mother. By uncovering values and beliefs deeply rooted in a patriarchal masculine culture, Laura has ended the myth of mothers as "superwomen" and is laying the basis for a new model of motherhood built on the principles of work-family conciliation and shared responsibility.

Laura is changing the system by influencing both the demand, through her community of changemaker mothers, and the offer of conciliation and co-responsibility measures, by weaving multistakeholder alliances with public administrations and the private sector for advancing towards real work-family conciliation and gender equity. One key aspect of Laura's innovation is engaging closely with the government in the design of laws and protocols to enact systemic change on a large scale, including a State Pact for Conciliation with the consensus of parties, trade unions, companies, and families. In addition, she is changing the role of the private sector through a network of leading companies that are setting the highest standards of balance between work and parenthood, making the case, and showing a new model of conciliation and flexibility from the business angle is possible.

With this multistakeholder approach, the pattern change sought by Laura is a society where parenthood and caregiving are understood as a social, collective, and public responsibility, rather than a personal, individual, and private one. There is no turning back for Yo no Renuncio. Laura has created a very powerful community of Malas Madres and other social agents who have embraced her vision and will not stop until they collectively achieve it. As proof of this, there are more and more women willing to take leadership positions both in Spain and in other countries to create local networks of Malas Madres and foster Laura’s solutions at the local level.

The Problem

The lack of work-family balance is a social issue that has been challenging modern Western societies for many decades, especially as a factor that increases gender inequality in the labor system, forcing women to choose between family and career. In Spain, 60% of women give up their careers when motherhood arrives, something that they already evaluate even before getting pregnant.

This alarming situation is the result of different, complex, and interrelated underlying causes. First, is the fact that women continue to be primarily responsible for raising children, with very little co-responsibility or no co-responsibility at all. 88% of mothers in Spain are the primary caregivers for children under three. This is the result of gender stereotypes deeply rooted in Spanish society and traditional education, which perpetuate and repeat standard roles in schools and at home, with girls becoming eternal caretakers and boys eternal leaders. The upbringing and the education of children is a female burden in most cases, with little cooperation and poor distribution of domestic tasks with partners, leading to a substantial lack of shared responsibility.

Second, the lack of conciliation measures for a better work-family balance, often pushes women into either giving up their professional careers when motherhood arrives (which is often a subconscious decision rather than a consensual decision within the family) or delegating being a mother to caregivers or others. Women have entered the labor market to compete on equal terms, but men have not entered to take responsibility at home in the same way. Since women are the ones who assume the greatest burden of family and domestic work, they are also the ones who are more likely to give up their professional careers when becoming mothers. The lack of conciliation measures discriminates against women and makes it harder for them to have the same rights and opportunities as men do in the labor market, moving away from gender equity.

Third, Spain has an inflexible work model with policies that do not respond to parents’ needs. This work model is based on productivity, consumerism, lack of flexibility, excessive control, lack of trust from leaders, absence of work by objectives, wage inequality, perpetuating machismo and lack of parity. Although there are forward-looking companies that are eager to support work-life balance and shared responsibility, they don't have the right tools and resources to do so.

The discrimination experienced by women when motherhood arrives and the impossibility of conciliating work and family life have serious consequences not only from a social and economic perspective, but also from a mental health point of view. Research carried out by Laura’s organization shows that 65% of women have less than one free hour a day and 20% do not have any time at all for themselves. Often women feel invisible, alone and with a constant sense of guilt in the upbringing of their kids, preventing them from feeling satisfied with their lives. The load they generally bear, accompanied by a lack of time for self-care, ends up undermining mental health.

On the other hand, not only do women give up their work when motherhood arrives, but in many cases, they also give up the opportunity to have more children. 70% of mothers in Spain would have more children if they counted on conciliation measures and received the flexibility needed to adapt the working model. This is also one of the factors that contribute to the decline of the birth rate in the country, which continues to fall and reached 7% in 2020 (the lowest rate since the 1970s).

The lack of work-family balance is a family, social, economic, and political problem, and it requires a deep change in structures and mindsets, with transversal measures that change the current work model and its relationship with caregiving and life.

The Strategy

Through Yo no Reuncio, Laura is changing the labor-maternal system by activating mothers, companies, public administration, and educational institutions as changemakers, so that no woman has to choose between family and a professional career. To turn her vision into reality she has developed a strategy based on four levers that influence both the demand and the offer of conciliation and co-responsibility measures: 1) Knowledge development to create awareness of an unquestioned reality; 2) Capacity building for empowering mothers as changemakers; 3) Market development to strengthen a corporate network of early adopters; 4) Advocacy to create new laws and policies.

1) Knowledge development to create awareness of an unquestioned reality

Laura has launched seven large-scale studies to create awareness around parenthood and work-life balance, a reality that most women did not even question. This has uncovered for the first time a sad reality: society had led most women to believe that they had to either adopt a “superwoman” role looking after both their family and work responsibilities or choose between a professional career or a family.

The far-reaching sociological studies undertaken by Yo no Renuncio are an x-ray of the state of work-life balance and co-responsibility in Spain, making it clear that conciliation is a social, economic, and political problem. They explore issues such as the cost of work-life balance for women (economic, emotional, and personal), the organization of families during the pandemic (with women bearing all the weight of childcare), and the extent to which women feel alone, with a lack of emotional support and resources to carry out domestic-family care.

With the data from these studies, Laura developed powerful reports that describe the day-to-day reality for more than 12.000 women and the urgent need for action to change it. She has taken the conversation out of the academic realm and into real women’s lives making them aware that actions for real conciliation must be taken at a political, economic, legislative, corporate, familial, and individual level.

These studies have laid the foundations for an evidence and data-based narrative, that Laura uses to work closely with different cross-sector allies and bring these data to the right decision-making forums, both in the public and in the private spheres. She has also motivated thousands of people to sign petitions to pressure on public administration and companies to implement measures that favor the balance of personal, family and work life.

2) Capacity building for empowering mothers as changemakers

The best allies of Yo no Renuncio are the Malas Madres themselves; committed women who want to experience motherhood in their own particular way and who fight for real conciliation and co-responsibility. Laura unlocks the potential and the resilience of mothers through monthly training sessions that are taught by the Malas Madres themselves and other experts, offering tools to turn participants into agents of change of work-life balance and co-responsibility. She has created a membership model with 600 fee-paying members (€50 a year) that enables the creation of open-access training and other support resources. The network, however, goes beyond the members, with more than 1,200,000 active Malas Madres creating a critical mass in the digital space and with a regular presence in Spain's most relevant mainstream media.

To make women fully aware of their rights, Laura has created the Yellow Conciliation Telephone, the first free, legal service that can be accessed by anyone who has doubts and questions about their entitlements as parents in the work sphere. During the first two years of operation, the service, led by volunteer lawyers, has attended more than 10,000 queries from all over Spain. During the months of the pandemic, she also set up the Green Emotional Telephone, a free psychological care service for mothers who seek mental health support.

3) Market development to strengthen a network of corporate early adopters

Laura has created the “I'm not giving up!” corporate seal, an initiative that brings together companies and institutions highly committed to work-life balance. This is a network of early adopters: “familiarly responsible” companies that, with their campaigns and internal measures, want to set an example for society, showing that a different working model with flexibility and conciliation at its core is possible. The network “I'm not giving up!” has already gathered 15 member companies, including Danone, Seat, Ikea, and Microsoft, among others.

Yo no Renuncio works with these companies through awareness-raising, workshops, and employee engagement, in order to allow in-depth reflections on how to set and improve the highest standards of conciliation and flexibility in the workplace. On the other hand, Yo no Renuncio holds regular meetings with them to document, validate, share and disseminate their good practices, such as online working and flexibility. In the short term, Laura’s goal is to create an open-access database of best practices, so that any organization that wants to improve family-work conciliation has a sound and successful benchmarking tool to use as a reference. Additionally, this network of companies is creating the first job bank for mothers who lost their jobs and cannot return to work.
To keep increasing the number of companies with the “I'm not giving up!” corporate seal, Laura is leveraging her enthusiastic community of Malas Madres, creating an “Ambassador” model where committed women carry out specific actions to raise awareness within their own companies and bring them closer to the initiative.

4) Advocacy to create new laws and policies

Laura is weaving alliances with all organizations that promote and work for equality at a national level to create proposals and political pressure in a collaborative way, with the common goal of having conciliation measures entrenched in law, ensuring flexibility, the protection of mothers in the labor market and the proposal of new mechanisms that put care at the center in all work environments.

To do so, she has co-created the Care Advisory Board, together with the Spanish Ministry of Equality, comprising 50 organizations from all sectors (non-profits, companies, universities and advocacy groups) to jointly prepare The White Paper on Care and the roadmap to create and implement public policies in Spain. The biggest milestone of this group so far has been succeeding in matching paternal leave to maternal leave. The co-parent's leave has risen from 2 weeks to 16 weeks by law since January 2021.

Laura is also pushing public institutions so that they monitor compliance with equality plans and parenthood balance measures implemented in private companies since Gender Reports have recently become a legal requirement in Spain for companies but there is a lack of follow-up in their compliance.

To turn Yo no Renuncio’s vision into reality, Laura has identified the need to create transversal measures that change the current work model and its relationship with caregiving and life.

For this reason, she is leading the drafting of a State Pact for Conciliation with the consensus of political parties, trade unions, companies and families, to create a conciliation plan with the National Congress. Discussions are currently underway to refine and approve the proposal and the budget with the Minister of Territorial Affairs.

Laura tabled the following proposals, most of which are included in the draft of this conciliation plan: a) Recognition of the social and economic value of motherhood, including tax incentives to companies that favor the flexibility in working hours; b) Reincorporation plans in companies after maternity/paternity leave; c) Working from home whenever is possible; d) Review the right to reduce and adapt working hours; e) Leave for the parent when a child is sick; f) Revision of all public policies with a gender and parenthood perspective; g) Fiscal aids to hiring caregivers; h) Reduction of working hours without reducing salary; and i) Tax incentives for companies that have conciliation plans and measures (which has already been accepted in the budget of the regions of Madrid and Valencia). The implementation of this framework is a key lever to bring about the pattern change sought by Laura, having parenthood and care understood by society and a collective and public responsibility and reframing work as a conciliating element of life.

To further scale deep her impact, Laura is starting to raise awareness among children at school about co-responsibility, in order to change those traditional roles and stereotypes that are responsible for gender inequalities. To do so, she is currently working with educational experts and co-responsible men to create guides to cover co-responsibility themes so teachers can work on this aspect inside their organizations. This summer she is piloting this project with the autonomic government of a southern region in Spain.

Laura’s key scaling lever is creating networks of distributed and localized Malas Madres chapters. Within these, there are more and more women taking leadership positions both in Spain and in other countries to promote the adoption and reinforcement of this new model of motherhood, conciliation, and co-responsibility in their territories.

Besides, Laura is forging alliances with existing organizations in other countries, such as Ecuador (with organizations like Girls in Tech or Lila Working Moms) and Mexico (with the CEE network working for early childhood). These partners are playing a key role in the replication of Laura’s solution, especially for the expansion of the “I’m not giving up!” corporate network and for the design of new public policies.

The Person

Laura nearly died at birth because of a lack of oxygen and firmly believes that this episode marked her character and made her a fighter. She was raised in Málaga, a city in the south of Spain, in a family where she was educated in values of solidarity and love and is always looking after weaker members of society. In her youth she organized meetings and parties in the town where they spent the summer and raised money for the church. She has an innate quality of mobilizing and connecting people. One of her strongest role models was her father, an entrepreneur who always made her think big. As a child they called her "bossy", as a teenager "whiny" for being a non-conformist, and today she is considered a "leader”.

She moved to Madrid to study design and communication. She worked as a Creative Director in a communication agency until she became a mother in 2014 and had to give up her professional career because she did not want to give up raising her daughter. The schedules and the inflexibility of the company meant that she had no other choice. It was a very difficult process involving loss of identity and taking tough decisions on priorities. However, this crisis has ended up being her life purpose - to ensure that other women do not have to do the same.

The Malas Madres community began with Laura's daily vent on Twitter, where with a lot of sense of humor she demystified motherhood and the figure of women as superwomen. Within a few months, the Malas Madres club was an online community of more than 3,000 women. A year later she had created a Malas Madres brand and the community was still on the rise. She managed to get Ikea to give her space for meetings and there she and the community start thinking more deeply about how to create an all-encompassing model of working mothers for today's society.

Her career in the fight for gender equality and conciliation as well as the demystification of motherhood has made her a recognized Spanish influencer, with numerous awards and recognitions for her entrepreneurial and social trajectory.