In honour of Mother’s Day and the sacrifices women make for their kids

It hasn’t been a great week for women in the UK and whilst this might not be all that unusual, the juxtaposition with International Women’s Day has amplified the issues.  My own week has been similarly tragic with lots of consideration of gender specific challenges and the burden of caring responsibilities.

When I had my first child, my husband took 3 months of Shared Parental Leave while I went back to work.  It was transformational for us as a family and whilst he was very involved anyway, it truly changed the way he contributed to the childcare which has been positive for all of us.

There was never any consideration of working part-time for him though when he did return. He already worked a compressed week so had one day a week with our son.  He also had to change his hours slightly to accommodate the nursery pick up on certain days so that I had space to meet my work commitments too.  Despite the fact that he was off work full-time for 3 months, no one ever asked him if he was going back part-time and many asked me.

I worked a 4-day week when I returned, using my annual leave to reduce my hours and I later put in a flexible working request for compressed hours so that I could continue with my childcare day (saving us £260 per month in nursery fees).  My approach first of all was to ask if I could work my hours flexibly across the week to accommodate my childcare day because I knew that sometimes there were work commitments on a Monday and I was more than happy to be flexible in order to get the job done well.  The initial response was unsupportive and so I was forced to submit a statutory request which was successful because I’d already been working 4 days a week and would still be working full-time hours, flexibly across the week. There were literally no grounds to refuse it although my boss had made me feel like the organisation would try.

Later on, my husband secured a new role with more responsibility. In the first week, we realised my son had chicken pox. My husband felt there was no way he could ask for time off in his first week and I completely understand how hard that is but I also know that mothers everywhere would do it without question.

There was an article that I read the other day in the Guardian about the impact of Covid on women. One of the stats that hit me was this: ‘the UK public are four times more likely to disapprove of mothers with young children working full-time than fathers’.  I’ve definitely felt a lot of pressure for me to not go back to work full-time.  And yet, I’m the higher earner. 

Even though we are both on reasonable salaries, the childcare costs are crippling and we would struggle to pay for two.  Many would say, if you have children, you should pay for them and that’s fine in principle.  The issue is though that it forces women out of the workplace because society puts pressure on the mother to work part-time at most.  Then we make childcare ridiculously expensive and declare all decent work full-time only. Part-time jobs are typically low-skilled and low-paid and whilst I see no logical reason why skilled roles can’t be done part-time, it’s what we have told ourselves and I hear other women defending this.

The other thing we choose to ignore is that we need children for the future labour market. This is what pays for our public services. And yet, we are in a situation where families are choosing not to have children because the finances do not stack up.

The cost of 2 children full-time in our nursery, even with one receiving 30 hours free, is £23k.  The average salary for Cardiff is £28k (so there will be plenty earning less than this for full-time hours).

I’ve come to think of this today because yesterday we celebrated mothers across the United Kingdom. Mothers play a critical role in bringing up the next generation.  We rely on mums to reduce their working hours, take on low-paid, part-time roles and sacrifice their pensions in order to do this.  And they do it without question.

So in honour of Mother’s Day, I wanted to highlight the motherhood penalty and pay tribute to those making sacrifices for their kids.  Gone are the final salary pensions for husbands that might have kept us and gone are lasting marriages for that matter.

This situation won’t get better until women are valued for the contribution they make and that will be a long time coming as the patriarchy continues to gaslight us. 

It isn’t going to get any better until we see men making the same sacrifices and employers being more flexible.  “Covid has made employers more flexible”, I hear you cry. No. Covid has forced employers to facilitate remote working and let people work more flexibly. However, for many ‘working flexibly’ means working your full-time hours around home-schooling which means a double shift, every day.  

What we need for the future is affordable (even universal) childcare and part-time work opportunities at all levels along with employers that don’t see time out for family as a lack of commitment to the work.

Does this ring true for you? Or do you think it’s way off the mark? Let us know in the comments below.

Image by Iuliia Bondarenko from Pixabay 

3 things employers can do now to address the gender pay gap in their workplace

Gender pay is back in the headlines this week as the deadline passes for reporting pay for male and female employees in companies with more than 250 staff.  From today, employers will need to be transparent about average pay for men and women in their organisations which includes any difference in bonuses or at different levels of the pay scale.

This move has been taken by the UK Government because despite over 40 years of Equal Pay legislation, the gender pay gap remains a stubborn problem that the Government is committed to address.  From now on, companies will need to know the situation across their business which will shine a light on gender inequality in the workplace and hopefully lead to plans to address the imbalance.

What creates this problem?  A wide range of factors contribute to the continued pay inequality for women not only in the UK but around the world.  Firstly, more women than men enter careers with low pay such as hairdressing and childcare whereas more men are found in higher paying sectors such as construction and engineering.

Women are more likely to take on the caring role within the family meaning that work and career take a back seat.  Choosing to reduce hours limits women’s career options with part-time roles at a senior level being extremely difficult to find.  Instead, those women who prioritise family-friendly working hours tend to find their options limited to jobs which are low skilled and low paid.

From a male perspective, whilst rights are increasing for fathers who want to share the responsibility of caring for the family, exercising these rights is often more of a challenge.  At all levels of society, assumptions are made about what changes a woman will make once a baby arrives with far less consideration given to how the father might plan to change his working patterns or adjust his career goals.

What needs to be done to tackle the gender pay gap?  It’s going to be a long journey with lots of work required to change society’s views on gender roles including working with children to create a foundation for success.  However, if you are an employer that wants to start addressing this today, here are three things that employers can do now to make a significant difference for gender pay inequality:

1)      Identify any structural issues in the organisation

Many times, I have heard employers say they would love to appoint women to their advertised roles if only they would apply.  My response to this is to ask them to consider why women might not put themselves forward for these roles.  One possibility might be that women think they can’t have flexibility in the role.  For example, across a number of organisations, I have heard women say that they value their flexibility and senior roles in their organisation state that post-holders are required to work the hours necessary to do the job.  This can be worrying for women with family responsibilities and they can be discouraged from applying if they think they will not have the flexibility they need to manage work and home.

2)      Part-time roles at a senior level

Another thing I have heard many times over the years is that management and senior roles can’t be done part time.  In my opinion this is untrue and so a positive step would be for employers to start advertising higher level roles with a clear statement that part-time hours or flexible working is available.  For roles that do need someone full-time, employers should start seriously exploring job share arrangements as an option.

3)      Supporting fathers to take an active role

As long as women are seen as the ones responsible for caring for the family and home, there will be discrimination in the workplace.  New policy and legislation means that the growing number of men who want to be involved in raising up the family, are able to do so. However, enhanced packages offered to women need to be available to men as well to make shared parental leave a viable option. And we need to encourage more men to exercise their right to request flexible working until it is no longer seen as something for women.

Finally, I’ve heard lots of employers saying they know that the gender pay gap is an issue but ‘not in my workplace’.  Any organisation that thinks this way needs to seriously reflect.  If it’s true then share what you’re doing with others so they can enjoy the same success.  If it isn’t true, try some of these actions and start making a change.

Do you agree with the suggestions in this article? Are these things having an impact already in your workplace? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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