Figures released by the Government showed that only one fifth of all new mothers return to a full-time career within five years of giving birth, with many shifting to part-time employment or leaving the labour market altogether. In comparison, 90% of new fathers were in full-time work within three years of having a child. For those mothers who do return to full-time work, their career progression often remains stunted, whereas there was shown to be minimal difference between the career progression of men with or without children. (1)
The gender pay gap has been an ongoing topic for some decades, and much has been done to close the gap: including radical political changes such as the Equal Pay Act of 1970 and Government-backed workplace initiatives such as skill-based hiring to avoid recruitment bias and transparency over salary ranges to encourage women to negotiate their salaries . While (2) overt pay discrimination now contributes a reduced part to the gender pay gap thanks to many of these changes, many social factors still exist which prevent women, and particularly mothers, from achieving true equality in the workplace.
Proponents of the traditional family unit where the mother doesn’t work full-time, such as The Conservative Woman writer Kathy Gyngell, might argue that many mothers favour staying at home with their child instead of working, and so it is their choice to do so. While this can go some way to explaining why only a fifth of mothers will return to full time work, it doesn’t explain why a woman’s experience upon returning to work after having a child will be remarkably different than a man’s. Yoopies’ study highlights some of the difficulties that can be faced upon the return to work, and helps to explain further why women’s careers will often stagnate or even decline while proposing an alternative explanation for why the proportion of mothers who work full time is so low.
Inequality at home translates to inequality in the workplace
Gender roles in the family home are one of the biggest factors contributing to the inequality mothers experience in their career progression, something that is evident in the share of parental leave uptakes. While equality for women in society has improved tremendously, only 7% of the British population still think that women with children under school age should work full-time, and around 27% think that those with school-aged children should work full-time. On the other hand, this question is not being asked at all about whether British (3) fathers should be working or not, but researchers from the USA showed that 70% of their population agreed that the ideal place for fathers is in full-time work . (4) Back home, only 30% of the British population thought that parents should take an equal amount of paid parental leave to look after a new baby, with the majority thinking that the mother should take all or most of it and nobody voting for fathers to take a higher share. (5) Looking after the family home was the reason why two-thirds of mothers did not work at all, but only explained why a quarter of fathers didn’t work. It is clear from these figures that (6) society still largely believes that it is more a woman’s responsibility to look after her children, rather than a man’s. Francesca Chong, the manager of the UK’s leading childcare platform Yoopies quotes: “As long as these gender norms and unequal standards exist in the home, women’s equality in the workplace will simply not follow suit.” The reality of the difficulties of balancing home-life and child-raising affects mothers more disproportionately than fathers, as it is the women of the household who are still being expected to prioritise these aspects over their careers.
Work-life balance in parenthood is not supported enough
Fortunately, employers can still do a lot to influence the situation and make the transition back into full-time work more favourable for mothers who wish to do so. One of the most significant areas that employers can influence is the work-life balance of their employees. Exclusive research by Yoopies revealed that 94% of employees are managing some aspect of their private life at work and 78% of the time it’s related to their children. These parents remarked that this contributed to higher stress, increased fatigue and lower motivation, as well as negatively affecting their performance at work . 1 in 3 employees noticed that (7) managing their family life has damaged their career progression. Lastly, around half of the employees interviewed told us that their company had no formal solution in place to assist them with handling these issues. Considering that it is mostly mothers managing these aspects of home life, it goes some way to explaining part of the reason why mothers find it difficult to return to work: a healthy work-life balance is simply not manageable if it is up to them to handle home life. The study by Yoopies can be viewed in its entirety here. Many solutions exist to help employees to manage aspects of their home life more easily, and employers need to be more open to considering the work-life balance of mothers who want to return to full time work. Not only for the sake of improving their employees’ happiness, productivity and quality of life, but to contribute to real societal change in alleviating some of the causes of the gender pay gap.
1 Source: Gov UK – Employment pathways and occupational change after childbirth
2 Source: Gov UK – Reducing the gender pay gap and improving gender equality in organisations
3 Source: British Social Attitudes – Gender
4 Source: Pew Research Inc. – Women more than men adjust their careers for family life
5 Source: British Social Attitudes – Gender
6 Source: Office for National Statistics – Employment and Labour Market
7 Source: Yoopies UK – Study on “mental load” at work