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