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Bridging the Gap for Mothers in the Workforce

This week marks International Women’s Day (8th March) and the 2024 campaign calls to  #InspireInclusion – forging a more inclusive world for women in education, health, economics, sport and all sectors. On this global day of activism and celebration, it’s important to spotlight the ongoing struggles and achievements of mothers. This year, we’re diving into the realities facing mothers in the workforce.

 

Understanding The Motherhood Penalty

The motherhood penalty is real, and it’s impacting mothers everywhere. Imagine trying to climb the career ladder, but there’s an invisible force pulling you down each time you take a step up. That’s the motherhood penalty. It’s not just about lower pay or fewer promotions; it’s about facing a workplace that’s not designed for you. An alarming statistic from Anna Whitehouse (a.k.a Mother Pukka) highlights that 54,000 mothers every year are pushed out of work because of inflexibility, childcare costs and maternity discrimination. The current state of working world is set up for mother’s to fail. 

In a recent post on Instagram, Anna shares “As much as we’ve been told we can have it all – the job, the family, the social life – we are set up to fail. Instead, we have to do it all and be it all, while constantly feeling burnt out and like we’re never good enough.”

So how can the Motherhood Penalty affect mums? Here are some of the ways the motherhood penalty manifests in the workforce, deeply affecting mothers’ careers and overall wellbeing.

 

Pay Rises and Promotion Opportunities

Firstly, the path to advancement seems disproportionately steep for mothers. IWD shares “women, especially those belonging to underrepresented groups, continue to face barriers when seeking leadership roles.” Mothers can find themselves sidelined, often perceived as less committed than male colleagues or those without children. 

 

The Struggle for Flexibility

The issue of workplace flexibility – or the lack of – is another critical part of the motherhood penalty. Despite evolving work cultures following COVID-19, many companies remain rigid in their policies, or for certain careers flexibility just isn’t an option. A member of the Happy Mum Happy Baby community shares “As a teacher, flexible working isn’t really an option. I always think it’s ironic that a job that focuses on young people is so inflexible when it comes to looking after our own children. I have one WFH hour per fortnight, which reduces the drop off rush on that morning, but that’s about it. And I had to step down from my role as Head of Department in order to work 3 days per week part-time.”

And while part-time work is an option for some, it doesn’t always stem from financial necessity; as one mother puts it. “In my experience, going part-time wasn’t due to childcare costs, more because I wanted to spend time with my son. If living costs weren’t ludicrous I’d have loved to be a stay-at-home mum with him for this short time.”

For companies that do offer flexible working, there’s still a widespread misapprehension about what true support and flexibility mean. Another member of our community shares “I am still expected to complete my full-time role in 20 hours a week! It’s exhausting and stressful, but no one seems to care.I think because I’m working reduced hours, my employers think they are being supportive when they aren’t. No help has been given even though I’m constantly telling them I’m behind. So demoralising.” Workplaces need to not just offer part-time options but to genuinely adapt expectations and workloads accordingly.

 

The Escalating Cost of Childcare

“We’ve not only got a cost of living crisis, but a cost of working crisis that disproportionately affects working mothers” shares Pregnant then Screwed, an organisation that helps mother’s experiencing maternity discrimination. The UK has lost thousands of childcare providers since the pandemic due to underfunding, and the cost of childcare continues to soar, preventing many mothers from returning to employment. 

The statistics are stark: 33% of mothers are unable to return to full-time work due to childcare costs or availability, a sharp contrast to just 11% of fathers. The economic strain is so strong that 85% of parents agreed they view childcare costs as prohibitive to having more children. (Stats from Pregnant then Screwed). 

This is the narrative of one parent in our community, who shares “I’m desiring a second child but facing the reality that my entire salary would go to childcare has forced me to choose between my career and growing my family.”

 

How can we forge a more inclusive world for mothers in the workforce?

In the spirit of International Women’s Day and this year’s theme to #InspireInclusion, it’s crucial to recognise the power of collective action led by mothers. These mothers are not just raising families; they’re transforming the working world to accommodate the true meaning of work-life balance. 

 

Mum-friendly recruitment

One of the most significant steps towards a more inclusive world for working mothers is to support platforms and communities that advocate for mothers’ rights and flexibility in the workforce. And Made by Mammas Careers are doing just that! The duo behind podcast Made By Mammas, Zoe Hardman and Georgia Dayton have recently launched their new initiative in the recruitment space, which that offers employers a personal approach to finding the right candidates by tapping into an existing pool of people who have been through the most intense course in organisation, multi-tasking and time management – mums! 

MBM Careers are working to support mums in their return to work, career change or new job, and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for 2024.

 

Support is out there

Pregnant Then Screwed is an organisation addressing maternity discrimination and the childcare crisis. They campaign fiercely to have parents voices heard, ensuring you have up-to-date information about your employment rights and options. Whether it’s specialist legal advice or a listening ear, you’ll find all you need to know to challenge discrimination when you experience it. Their support services can also provide you with advice, mentoring and career support so no matter how daunting things might feel, you’ll be equipped to handle them.

 

Become part of the change

The Flex Appeal, founded in 2015 by Anna Whitehouse (Mother Pukka) has been instrumental in promoting flexible working arrangements as a norm rather than an exception. The introduction of the Flexible Working Bill marks a significant step forward in creating a more inclusive working environment for mothers, demonstrating the power of persistent advocacy and public engagement.

This International Women’s Day, tune into Anna’s panel on ‘What is the True Cost of Childcare?’ where she’ll be sharing her insight on the trials and tribulations of parenthood and beyond with with Joeli Brearley from Pregnant then Screwed and other panelists. 

 

Lead by example

We can also lead by example by fostering inclusive environments in our workplaces. If you’re in a leadership position, advocate for policies that support working mothers, such as flexible hours, remote working options, and parental leave. By creating a culture that values and supports all employees’ needs, we not only make our workplaces better for mothers but for everyone.

As Sophie Lewis – Chief Strategy Officer at M&C Saatchi shares “It’s very simple. Pay women fairly. Promote them into roles untested and don’t hold them to exacting standards men are never held to. Provide accessible childcare solutions and accept flexible working as standard. Put them at the top table. And not just in the people team. Stop pretending success and growth are about surrendering your whole life to a job. Value competence over confidence. Talk about periods, menopause, fertility treatment openly and be prepared to help them with these things because then they will carry on doing brilliant work for you.”

 

The roles of mothers in today’s world are multifaceted, extending far beyond traditional expectations. We are leaders, innovators, and advocates. By supporting each other, engaging with mum-centric platforms, and advocating for inclusive policies, we can pave the way for a future where being a working mother is not a disadvantage but a valued part of your professional identity.

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