How difficult is it being a working mum?

How difficult is it being a working mum?

As two women who have worked all our lives and set up our own business Lizzy and I know only too well the difficulties that working mums face.

 Last week the government budget acknowledged that getting women back into the work force must be an economically viable option for the woman - who knew! That made me think about other barriers to work - so, if the government ever did ask me about how to encourage women back to work, here are some of my thoughts that might be helpful for them!

In 2022 the UK became the most expensive country for childcare across the developed world. 

But as all working mums know it’s not just about the money (although - don’t get me wrong, that is a huge part).

As a mum returning to work your role as carer / worker requires multiple negotiations, with competing demands from work, childcare and household, often done on the backdrop of an assumed value system that the male is the main bread winner.

On household chores alone, a survey last year showed that women do approximately 20 hrs of housework compared to their male equivalent of 11.5.

I would hazard a guess that a fair negotiation and redistribution of those household tasks is the last thing that is done, if ever, on a woman’s return to work. I need to say here that in my case I have been very lucky with a modern man who does his own washing and is a great cook - but when I was working full time, I still felt exhausted at the end of the week.  

So, household tasks fairly redistributed - tick. 

What about childcare? Often finding the childcare is assumed to be the female task, and certainly when the nursery rings to say that your child is unwell and needs picking up - it is usually the woman they ring. That’s fine on one level, but often leads to discrimination at work. Throwaway negative comments about putting children before work can be damaging and demoralising for the woman who is already being pulled in several directions. 

 In a survey of more that 1,000 women run by MMB Magazine* (72% of whom worked at management level or above), less than one fifth (18%) felt happy and confident in returning to work. 37% felt so unsupported and isolated on their return they considered handing in their notice. This is backed up by research from the universities of Bristol and Essex who confirmed that women and men experience a ‘large divergence’ in their career paths in the years following childbirth. We know that by the time a woman’s first child is 12 years old on average her pay is 33% less per hour than a man’s. Because as we know, children grow up and while their needs are different, they still need parental time and energy not an absent or distracted parent.

The Equality Act of 2010 legislation prohibits pregnancy and maternity discrimination, yet why in 2023 are we still seeing it? Why has the charity Pregnant then Screwed even needed to be founded in the past few years? Why are we not living in a society which supports working mums financially and emotionally? Fewer than 1% of women take legal action against a discriminatory employer. 

Speaking for myself, I felt supported on all levels both at home and work yet still found life as a working mum hard and often tinged with guilt. I am retired now from my previous job as a GP but my daughter is just where I was, looking for child care, returning from maternity leave.

While I understand that numerous workplaces are flexible, understanding and welcoming others still have a long way to go.

If the government genuinely wants mums back to work, then there needs to be a policy change in government and a cultural change in many workplaces, acknowledging that our children are our future and working mums need to be supported, appreciated and understood - as well as being paid of course!

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