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What Will It Take To Value Working Mothers In The Workplace?

"... with the stigma surrounding father’s involvement – fear of being less dedicated to their work being a major barrier – it's going to take time to shift cultural perceptions."

Photo by Vítor de Matos on Unsplash

By Lauren Coulman

Imagine today was the last day you were going to be paid for, for the rest of the year. You’d be pretty peeved, right? That’s the situation working mothers find themselves in across the U.K. today—September 12th, 2018. That's almost four whole months of unpaid labor.

Why? Well, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the earning gap between mothers and fathers widens over the first twenty years a mother returns to work, resulting in a 30% pay differential between similarly educated parents. That’s a whole third shaved off your earning potential.

With the motherhood gap being a major contributor to the gender pay gap—over 78% of organisations across the UK paying women less than men on average with an 18.4% differential between male and female pay—its unsurprising, but no less shocking, that working mothers are the first casualty when it comes to recognizing equal pay days.

The root cause? Honestly, maternity discrimination, seen in the pay gap swinging into action for women around childbearing age.

According to the Equality and Humans Rights Commission (EHRC), 11% of women (that's 54,000 total each year) find themselves dismissed, made redundant or placed in untenable positions that force them to leave the organization they worked for.

Add to that the 77% of expecting or working mums who face prejudice in the workplace—opportunities for promotion removed, reductions in salary, being overlooked for pay rises and growth opportunities—and you have a situation where the simple fact of having a child erodes your earning potential and opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling career.

Underpinned simply by the belief that working mums are less dedicated upon starting a family, the double bind is that men are viewed in a wholly positive light post childbirth.

Perceived as more stable and committed once they have a family, fathers tend to be bestowed with opportunity and pay rises. Mothers, however, are believed to work less and be more distracted, all of which is presumed to impact on performance, and therefore, becomes reflected in pay.

Who’s asking the mothers, in all this? With 4.9 million working mums across the U.K., you'd hope the employers, but that's rarely the case.  In the absence of conversation, its taken maternity rights campaigner Joeli Brearley to step into the breach.

Launching Pregnant Then Screwed in 2015 following her own experiences with maternity discrimination in the workplace, initially, the campaign simply provided a platform for women to come forward and share their stories for others to see.

With many women feeling isolated and unsure of how to take action, simply feeling heard, believed and connected made all the difference. As well as a legal advice line for support during employment tribunals, Mum’s Equal Pay Day is the latest in a line of campaigns to draw attention to, and progress policy, when it comes to supporting working mums.

Important work, as not only does maternity discrimination cost employers—an estimated £278.8m annually lost across the U.K. in the year after on account of investment in recruitment, training and generally the loss of productivity—but the public purse too. Up to £16.7m is the annual cost to taxpayers on account of the loss in tax paid and money spent on benefits.

All money that could be invested in enabling a major part of our workforce. Affordable childcare is essential, especially as women still take on 40% more domestic labor and caring responsibilities than men in the home.

Flexible working, that allows both parents to work around the demands of raising a family and remain a vital and productive member of their teams.

Taking advantage of the 2015 government shift on shared parental rights—allowing men and women to equally partake in the first year of raising a child—could help. Yet, with the stigma surrounding father’s involvement – fear of being less dedicated to their work being a major barrier – it's going to take time to shift cultural perceptions.

So, what will it take? A great starting point is simply having the conversation, which the Equality and Human Rights Commission is encouraging.

Launching their Working Forward Programme in 2018, the government department is asking that businesses pledge to make progress on maternity rights and have developed tools and resources to guide leaders and line managers through supporting their pregnant and post-natal staff.

It's essential they do. With the personal cost—immediately in loss of wages and long-term through mother's reduced earning potential—the impact on individuals is astronomical. In assessing the cost of maternity discrimination, the EHRC estimate collectively women annually lose between £46 and £113 million in the year following discriminatory issues alone.

In addition to the reduced economic power of working mothers—the impact on single mothers and self-employed parents beyond thinking—the mental, emotional and often physical burden during pregnancy and post-partum can be severe, further impacting women’s potential in the workplace in the aftermath.

Thankfully, businesses are beginning to wake up to the lost opportunity that is the working mum, and are finding progressive, creative ways to support them. Beyond signing the Working Forward Pledge—organizations like John Lewis, Nationwide and BT all committing to making progress—we’re seeing huge leaps across the private sector in particular.

With PWC launching their Flexible Talent Network—aligning people’s preferred working patterns with projects and roles that best fit—and Deloitte vocally championing shared parental leave to remove the stigma, its huge systemic shifts like these that will make the difference.

No less important are the cultural nods that are coming from the most unexpected sources. Goldman Sachs couriering breastfeed milk on behalf of mothers and Google Campus allowing retraining mothers to bring their children to an in-room creche send a loud message about the value these organizations place on working mothers.

How are you valuing yours?


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