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Jobs, discrimination and the 'motherhood penalty': what can be done? Come tell MNHQ what you think

(126 Posts)
RowanMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 03-Aug-15 15:48:27


Lots of you will have seen the recent stories about the Equality and Human Rights Commission's report into maternity and pregnancy discrimination, which found that around 54,000 mothers each year are illegally discriminated against at work.

When we surveyed MNers recently about maternity and work, you told us that you overwhelmingly agree that the 'motherhood penalty' exists, and most of those surveyed (65%) believed having children had a negative effect on their career.

So we'd like to hear what you think about how both explicit discrimination, and wider difficulties faced by mothers going back into the workplace, can be tackled, over and above the enforcement of laws that are already in place.

Do you work for an employer (or are you one yourself) who is very successful at welcoming mothers back in to the workplace?

What practical steps can employers take? (These can be steps taken within organisations, between organisations, and between organisations and employees - just for starters...) Do you have any examples of strategies that have worked, either as an employer or employee?

Are there tweaks (or bigger changes) that could be brought in to start to tackle this problem in a more systematic way?

We'd really love to hear your experiences and ideas, whether experience-based or completely blue-sky.

For those of you who like reading government documents, there's also a current consultation into the gender pay gap, and we may use the responses from this thread to help to inform a response to that as well.


BrieAndChilli Mon 03-Aug-15 16:10:52

My youngest is starting school in September and due to childcare costs I have been working in a restaurant in the evenings so DH can look after the children (3 kids)
I want to go back to a 'daytime' job but want part time hours to fit in with family life. It's impossible to find anything remotely career like that doesn't require lota of experience. It's impossible to change careers without working full time which wouldn't give me and the family's the life balance we want

EElisavetaOfBelsornia Mon 03-Aug-15 16:16:34

When I applied for a job at my current (public sector) organisation I asked to apply as job share, so I could spend time with young DCs. HR said no, I appealed to the Chief Exec who called the recruitment policies "antediluvian" (I looked it up, and agreed). So he took action.

Now I and many others have flexible working arrangements which include part time, job share and condensed hours. Most posts are based at home and as long as the job is done I can pick up my DCs from school and then write papers or deal with emails when they're in bed. There is some liaison with colleagues in other time zones so acting out of the 9-5 works for the job too. I am always willing to put in extra effort and hours because of the flexibility given to me. Interestingly, three quarters of senior managers, and all Deputy CEs and the new CE are women, nearly all with primary or pre school DCs.

And now I realise how lucky I am! smile

DoJo Mon 03-Aug-15 17:19:08

As a freelancer, I qualify for Maternity Allowance which basically amounts to statutory maternity pay (with no enhancements inc the first six weeks) that I can claim for 39 weeks. I have 10 KIT days to use without affecting my MA claim, in order to keep my clients on board while I am off on maternity leave in the hope that they don't go elsewhere in my absence.
If I was in traditional employment, not only would my employer pretty much have to keep my job open for me until my return, but I would be allowed to do as much freelance work as I wanted without it affecting my maternity pay. Not only have I sacrificed sick pay, annual leave and job security to have a role which is flexible enough to allow me to spend some time with my children, but I am also at a disadvantage when it comes to working during my 'maternity leave'.

Becsallie71 Mon 03-Aug-15 17:26:50

I'm due back to work next month after my second maternity leave ends. I've learnt a lot from my first, but fear my employer has not. There should be some buddy system on your return to get you back into things, there should also be some real flexibility if the flexible working policy is to be embraced rather than used as a token gesture to attract 30 something senior mgrs. I've found little of both. The simple and sad truth is having children is like pressing a pause button on your career for the next 5 years and unless you can find a progressive company, which recognises the value the individual brings in the long term, you will be stuck like many other brilliantly educated women consigned to the heap known as inferior!

Octopus37 Mon 03-Aug-15 18:18:50

After I had DS1, I didn't have a job to go back to so tried and failed to get a part time secretarial job, briefly considered going back full time but decided against it. Tried Phoenix Cards, Avon and then started Mystery Shopping. Through one of my companies this build up and was great for a while, I was earning quite good money, but unfortunately things have dried up a lot these days so I am scrapping around for work quite a lot. I love the flexibility but don't like being self-employed and think that in future years I could feel quite isolated if things dont change. I am trying to get a school hours job, although I am willing to work school holidays and put the kids in clubs as they are happier that way. I am therefore looking to change direction as I need to earn more, so I am going for anything that might work in terms of hours. DH works shifts and I have not family support and the kids to a lot of after school activities so not easy but will get there.

tomatoplantproject Mon 03-Aug-15 18:29:56

I gave up work to look after dd after my previous employer refused to let me work part time. I have been looking for full time jobs, or 4 days a week, but have to work 9-5 so I can do nursery drop off and pick ups.

It is astonishing the number of organisations who work 9-6 and won't conceive of a slightly shorter day or a reduced working pattern.

I have finally found a job I can do 4 days a week 9-5 but have had to take a significant salary cut to get there. I know I have compromised my long term career potential - I will be looking to change my working patter again when dd starts school. It is unlikely I will ever get as big a job as I could have done if I hadn't had to factor in dd.

Partly I think there is a huge education job still to do on most employers, and giving them positive experience of having part time workers.

cakesonatrain Mon 03-Aug-15 19:39:02

I have an excellent employer, who pay great maternity pay ( that you can leave without paying back) and are very accommodating of flexible working requests. I went back part time after DC 1, and am changing my hours when he startsschool so I can do drop offs and pickups. I will also be working from home 2 days a week.
I have not felt at all discriminated against or disadvantaged by having children.

trilbydoll Mon 03-Aug-15 20:06:07

I think a lot of problems come from individual managers, not necessarily the organisation culture (although that obviously can be the issue too).

Unfortunately if your manager has had a bad experience with a mat leave / p/t working in the past they're unlikely to be delighted at the prospect of a repeat, it's human nature.

Maybe organisations could make more of a big deal of successful p/t employees, or f/t but flexible working patterns, to try and reeducate managers that it's not necessarily a disaster waiting to happen?

NK5BM3 Mon 03-Aug-15 20:17:41

I think individual managers and heads have a lot to answer for. And HR needs to grow a spine. At my organisation (public sector) a lot of decisions are made at head level and HR doesn't seem to be able to extrapolate across the organisation so where there are reasonable managers they benefit those employees but where there are crappy ones, their employees suffer (like me).

I think there's a lot of parents too (men and women) who have to be reasonable when they say they are 'working from home'. There is working from home (because it will take an hour to travel into work) and there is working from home (the child is at home causing havoc and you can't really do anything beyond answering simple emails. Babies who are sleeping most of the time - a different story).

I think it's the latter sort of behaviour that makes employers wary about offering flexi work etc. the lack of trust is significant.

jaffajiffy Mon 03-Aug-15 21:05:50

The only way to tackle this problem is to make it a father's problem as well. Shared parental leave will help but we need more prescriptive rules that proactively mean men are affected in the same way as women. Make some leave and pay only available for fathers, obviously with caveats for mothers whose partners have buggered off. This would solve all kinds of other problems as well, like the stories of hopeless daddies who don't know how to change a nappy or know where the clean clothes are.

yummumto3girls Mon 03-Aug-15 21:11:17

I have been at home with the children for 5 years, after 15 years in my profession. With three children it was just impossible to juggle and I didn't want to compromise on being a mum, so I have given 100% of my time to that. During this time at home I have volunteered in my role for 7 years, spending hours providing professional advice in order to keep my experience up to date, and have attended regular CPD events. My youngest started school last September and to ensure I was fully up to date in my profession I did a post grad and funded it out of savings, costing approx £10,000. Now I have spent the last year trying to get a job, but there is nothing but full time, (which I don't want but will do) and all say they would prefer more current experience! What more can I do? Mothers really can't win either way, whether we work or stay at home. There should be funding to help us to return to work, to contribute to courses etc and employers need to be more considerate that just because we choose to stay at home with our children does not make us complete idiots. I have to say it's the women who interview me who are the least understanding.

The thought of returning to work full time fills me with horror, I live rural so how do 3 children in two different schools get home, with no school transport (2 x secondary so no after school clubs) so factoring in these costs is yet another consideration.

Alanna1 Mon 03-Aug-15 21:12:36

Campaign for men to have exactly the same parental leaves and paid leave as women in their work places, and campaign for a "use it or lose it" paternity leave element. i wosh policy makers would consider having this be taken in the second 6 months, possibly offer it from 9m-12m if the mother goes back to work or 9m-15m. To be paid by employers in the same way they pay their female staff. Need to remove the systematic bias that it is women who take the leave, and let men see that it is both fun and hard work, and also be the parent the toddler really wants when sick.

GerbilsAteMyCat Mon 03-Aug-15 21:14:40

Employers can do more to ease the transition back to work. When I returned to my job at a company with an excellent reputation for work life balance etc. I was dumped back in exactly the same job that I had left a year ago, with no notice given to the fact that I had been away for an entire year. People forget their passwords after a week or two week's holiday, an entire year away and I was mush. Mush who desperately did not wish to look like she was failing or had lost the ability to do her job. All my manager needed to do was spend a couple of hours going over what had changed during the time I was off, but no. Going back to work after my first child was one of the most horrible and miserable periods of my life.

CountryLovingGirl Mon 03-Aug-15 21:23:55

NHS professional here. I had two children. When I returned to my post, after my first child, I went part time and I found management very helpful and accommodating. I had a very good professional and friendly relationship with both of them. They agreed to the drop in hours down to 2.5 days. Childcare costs were ridiculous and, as we had no family help, it was better that I went part time. It worked well. Someone else also dropped hours and a FT post was created for another person (happy all round).

When I had my 2nd child 4 years later my previous manager had retired (as had his deputy). I had worked with them for 10 years and they knew I was a good worker. I had worked many extra shifts/weekends over the years. They had applied to have me re-graded to the grade above (twice, both times unsuccessfully) as I was doing things over and above my job description. I had fertility treatment for my 2nd child (treatment that had been on-going for 2 years and I had kept quiet about it). I was very lucky to fall pregnant after my first IUI attempt. I told my new manager about the pregnancy at 12 weeks. He had not long been there. I am convinced he thinks I did it deliberately!

My last day before maternity he told me they were advertising a job (full time) for the role I was, basically, doing. It was at the higher grade. He had no idea that previous management had tried to get me re-graded. I was qualified, both through experience and post-grad study, for the job. He knew I wouldn't apply as (a) I was about to go on 12 months maternity leave with a 4 year old and a new baby and (b) I didn't want full time hours (at that time).

When I returned they had given the job to a single, childless female (who is still single and childless to this day) and I had to train her in a lot of things. I had post-graduate qualifications in the area, she didn't. I know she felt uncomfortable about it all when she found out (someone else told her). Colleagues kept asking me if it bothered me. It didn't at the time but later it did. My new manager also gave jobs (that didn't exist) to people he worked with before. Meaning less work for me. I felt increasingly uncomfortable and, eventually, left for another trust. I still miss my old job terribly even though I am still doing the same job now. I had been there a long time and always worked over and above for them. It was as if he had formed some opinion of me that I was a mother and no good anymore. You really are treated like a 2nd class citizen once you become a mother. They lost a good worker. Although my new job is further away I have a good manager now. My children are older now so I now work extra hours now and I am also training to be a uni lecturer/teacher (part time, alongside my NHS role).

There are girls now returning from maternity leave and they want to drop hours. He is refusing! I feel so sorry for them. Also, most new employees are male now!

It is very, very hard to combine motherhood with a career (especially if you have no support network). NHS working hours have got worse especially since the 8-8 hours came in (not very good for those of us who use childcare facilities that finish at 6pm). Employers should not be allowed to get away with discrimination like this clearly was.

I can never forgive what the new manager and his deputy did to me. I still keep in touch with my retired deputy manager and he is absolutely disgusted at the way I was treated.

jippywhippet Mon 03-Aug-15 22:56:32

I'd absolutely agree that treatment can vary from manager to manager across organisations. It's very frustrating when there is no consistency - especially when you are the one being treated more harshly...

FlorisApple Tue 04-Aug-15 08:48:34

There is certainly a motherhood penalty, and I have experienced it, and watched many of my friends experience it in different ways (one was actually made redundant just as she was starting maternity leave. She fought it, and ended up with a big payout, but her maternity leave was taken up with employing lawyers and dealing with it.)

My own situation was that I did not have a permanent job when I was pregnant, and therefore had no job to go back to. I always assumed I would go back to work after I had children, but when I looked into childcare, I worked out it was going to cost all of my salary, plus travel expenses, work clothes, lunches etc, and they wanted a month's fees deposit (which, since I didn't already have a job was prohibitive to finding a job) - it was financially more than we could have managed - I would literally have been working for a loss, which our budget could not sustain.

However, I have come to love being a SAHP and feel it has been a silver lining, as my DD has thrived and I have really enjoyed it. Almost four years down the track, I've thought about what should be done a lot and I don't think it all comes down to "flexible" working or cheaper childcare. I think parents should (man or woman) be able to take time off to look after young children, and be able to get back into the workforce without incurring a penalty. To do this, surely employers should be encouraged to appreciate that they are missing out on great workers, who have not lost any skills after a few years out. I don't really understand why employers think that just because you have been gone for a few years, you are suddenly unemployable.

But, also, I have friends who have soldiered on for a few years, only to stop work when the kids went to school, because they suddenly found it all too difficult - covering weeks and weeks of holidays etc. They also found the kids needed them. So I am also a strong believer that care work should not be underestimated, but should be valued in its own right. The tax system should account for a parent taking time out by offering a transferrable tax allowance (for example) and we should accept that someone needs to look after children and that that is important work. I could go on, but I won't.

ScandinavianMummy Tue 04-Aug-15 08:50:09

I have been reading this post with great interest. I am a Norqwegian woman in my mid-30s. I have 2 children, aged 2 and 4, who both go to fulltime nursery (kids start school at 5 here). I work fulltime (and some) as a head of organisational development and HR in a national charity, and I have over the last year or so become very interested in how employers can and want to provide flexible enough working situations for mums (and dads) are able to work fulltime, and pursue a career, without the help of nannies, au pairs etc

My perspective is obviously clouded by the fact that we in Norway have a very generous maternity (and paternity) leave. The parents get in totalt 59 weeks paid leave (80% of annual salary - or 49 weeks with 100% salary). The mum has to take 10 weeks, dad 10 weeks - the remaining weeks the parents can share as they like. It is normally (and for obvious reasons) the mother who stays home for the large part of the 59 weeks - but it is becoming increasingly common to share the weeks equally. My husband and I did this when we had our second baby - I was home for about 30 weeks, and my husband for 29!

However, the challenges for Norwegian families start when the 59 weeeks are up, and we are back to work. Kids to be taken to nurseries, a days work ahead, fetching tired kids for nurseries etc. It is very common for both parents in a Norwegian family to work fulltime, and most kids start nursery at 1.
How busy this everyday life gets obviously depends a great deal on the parents employers and working life. And I would like to tell you about mine - because I have a very flexible employer, and I am now in a position at my work place where I as head of HR influence these things greatly.

- 10 days off fully paid if kids get ill (as they do)
- flexible working hours. Core hours between 9-15 gives plenty of time to drop off and fetch kids at nursery/school.
- opportunity to work from home - either whole days, or for example a couple of hours in the evening (all in agreement with line manager)
- possibility to reduce working hours for an agreed period

The key to allowing employees such great flexibility is largely trust. The managers are free to withhold the privileges of working from home etc on suspicion of misuse.

The general attitude is: if you do the job, and you do it well, it matters less when and where you do it.
In return for this flexibility the employer demands loyalty and hard work in return.

Had it not been for this flexibility I would not been able to keep this kind of job, and at the same time look after my two children. I know that - and my employer knows that. My employer is actively targeting young parents when hiring, because we know this is a group which will highly appreciate such flexibility and therefore would want to do a good job in return. It is an investment in people, which again is an investment in the company.

YonicScrewdriver Tue 04-Aug-15 09:38:48

Dojo, many employers will not allow you to work freelance full stop.

CerealEater Tue 04-Aug-15 09:50:08

Some employers are great, others can't offer flexibility due to the nature of the role. It doesn't make them a bad employer as many would make out.

KIT days could be used better by both sides.

I disagree with a motherhood penalty, if you choose to take years out to not work or now only want to work a few hours then of course prospects and pay are going to be compromised. No different to a childless woman or a man that's unemployed for a long time or wants flexible working to do hobbies etc.

Women are our own worst enemy at times and it's little wonder there is still negative thoughts about pregnancy and maternity leave. Many start a new role already pregnant to ensure they qualify for some form of maternity pay with little regard that they have wasted recruitment time, a replacement needing to be found and trained yet again etc. Lots return pregnany or take multiple leaves where the job has to be kept open and then don't return in the end anyway. Others want flexible working that suits them with no regards as to if it suits the job and employer.

NK5BM3 Tue 04-Aug-15 10:07:26

Of course sometimes it depends on the job role, so some jobs can be more flexible than others. So for example if you are working in a shop which requires you to be there to open up, serve customers etc, then yes you really have to be there and not sitting at home. But there is also flexibility within those sorts of jobs so for example, being able to fix one's shift.

Not everyone has childcare on tap. There seems to be some assumption that the extended family lives near by and can therefore jump when there's an emergency.

There is unconscious bias against women when it comes to promotion. Demonstrated in a lot of academic studies where identical cvs (just different gender) are given different treatment and different assumptions are made. If it's John's cv, the assumption is that he has the potential to be the senior manager. If it's Jane's cv, she will have to demonstrate that she has done it, before she gets seen to be a senior manager.

NK5BM3 Tue 04-Aug-15 10:20:25

I also had a boss who said to me when I said I was pregnant with no2, "oh, there goes your research career then! No need to do your appraisal now. Let's talk about your plans to cope with 2 under 3 years old". I nearly wanted to thump him. I did complain to HR - nothing happened.

Problem with HR - I feel - is that although it sounds like they want to work with us on problems, a lot of the time, their approach is very much 'shall we talk about it?'... which frankly doesn't work. No, I don't want to talk about it - I want you to tell the boss that it's unacceptable. I don't want to sit in a room with someone who's supposed to be my boss/superior and confront him about his crappy behaviour. Worst case scenario will be 'oh, sorry NK that you interpreted it that way - that wasn't what I meant'. Duh...

RolyPolierThanThou Tue 04-Aug-15 10:40:01

Cerealeater is talking nonsense.

You cannot start work already pregnant and be entitled to maternity pay. Instead you would get a maternity allowance paid by the government. It's still a pita for the employer to lose a new recruit but this happens anyway when people leave for other reasons (and employers get a lot less notice from a resignation than they do from a maternity announcement).

Also, it is ludicrous to compare having children with someone using a sabbatical or time away 'for a hobby'. Children are not hobbies that you can pursue in your own time or choose to give up if it's not working out. The government knows full well that having children is an essential economic contribution people make, but, unlike entrepreneurship or selling your labour, is one that comes with a financial penalty instead of a financial gain to those individuals who do it. This is why support is there (even if it's inadequate).

The only way to make it less of a hit on women is to open up paternity rights to men, making having children a natural part of employing human beings (just as businesses absorb the costs of sickness, bank holidays, annual leave etc) instead of a women's issue.

You would still have a gulf between childless vs parents but it would remove the burden disproportionately borne by women and by employers of women.

Blexie Tue 04-Aug-15 10:51:54

I had to go back to work when DD was 11mo. My company are supportive of job share and part timers.
However I found that the only practical option was to return full time as its the only way I could afford any childcare.
I'm lucky that I only pay for 1day per week, DD goes to family the other four. But 7mths on, my dad, who has LO 3 day is starting to struggle due to deteriorating health. I have no one else who can help and can't afford another paid day's care, but would have to loose the childminder if I dropped a day at work.
So I'm now stuck. We don't qualify for any tax credits or early free placements.

I guess my point is, why is there so little help for working mums whose household income excludes them from the help for low income families. Not saying that tax credits aren't trying to address a real problem, but shouldn't there be some help based on number if hours worked per week too?

I got very cross towards the end of my maternity leave overhearing a group of mums saying their free childcare placements. Gave them time to put their feet up any relax when they don't work at all. Given the number if free surestart activities in our area, this just isn't right. Surely those free placements should support parents going back to work, regardless if the child's age??

Sorry for ranting, but I fail to understand why working families who support the economic viability and growth if this country get so little help.

GoooRooo Tue 04-Aug-15 11:36:35

I'm self employed which offers me much more flexibility than some other parents, particularly in terms of hours worked, but has limitations too.

In particular the maternity allowance, which is the same as SMP without the enhanced 6 weeks at 90% which I would get if I was an employee. Because of this, I only took three months off when I had my son and will only take four months off with the baby I am now expecting. With the enhancement I would be able to take off at least 6 months, which would be a much better length of time to spend with my child. I have saved very, very hard to allow myself to take four months off and it will still be an enormous struggle as I'm the main breadwinner in our family.

I also can't claim childcare vouchers because I am not a PAYE employee. I was very much looking forward to the new childcare scheme to be introduced this autumn as it would save us a small fortune with two children in childcare, but it's now been delayed until autumn 2017, which means I will miss out on this too.

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