Tomorrow it’s International Women’s Day. This post is a call-to-arms for equality in the workplace – #BeBoldForChange.
When I returned to work after I had my daughter, I decided to work part-time. I was demoted. My responsibilities were slashed and a childless colleague with very little communications experience was given my job.
It was humiliating. I’d worked full-time in mostly female dominated industries and believed we lived in more enlightened times. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As a mother I was no longer prime employee real estate. Welcome to the reality of inequality in the workplace.
And I’m FAR from alone.
Nearly EVERY mother I know has a similar tale to tell of either blatant discrimination or the dawning realisation that the career they once thrived in is incompatible with being a mum.
Every year 54,000 women are forced out of their jobs by unsympathetic employers after maternity leave.
The reality of inequality in the workplace
It’s not only that mothers don’t want to commute for two hours and put in a 15 hour shift at the office. They can’t.
The main responsibility for childcare – and most other forms of care for that matter – still lies with women. And the reason for this lies squarely with the outdated notion of working nine-to-five.
The traditional workplace is a toxic environment for mothers.
This working world we’ve inherited became the norm when 99% of the workforce were men with wives at home taking care of the home and the children. Times have changed, but our working life hasn’t.
Despite the lip service paid to ‘flexible working’ by many employers, working nine-to-five still remains the norm. And while it does anyone who has the audacity to request more flexibility ends up being viewed as less committed. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
One in five new mums experience harassment or negative comments from their colleagues, employer or manager when pregnant or returning from maternity leave.
Just because you don’t want to work 15 hour days and can’t go for spontaneous after work drinks anymore doesn’t mean you aren’t a dedicated, loyal and high performing employee.
As a part-time working mother I was ten times more productive than I ever was when I worked full-time. With limited time to get everything done I powered through and ditched the time-wasting.
Yet, my absence from the office two days a week and the fact I had to leave at 5pm on the dot left me with the distinct impression that others felt I wasn’t pulling my weight.
The stark choice mothers face
Despite the circumstances I was lucky to have an employer who even considered allowing me to work part-time. After having kids most women face two stark choices:
- Struggle on in a full-time role desperately trying to keep all the balls in the air – OR
- Give up work because the hours, commuting and childcare costs make it not worth your while.
I’d like to think there was a third option but flexible, part-time roles that are both rewarding and well-paid are a bit of an urban myth.
Outside London the vast majority of part-time work is unskilled and poorly paid. If you don’t believe me do a quick search on any local jobs site. There’s a dearth of appealing options.
A shocking 54% of women who work part-time are doing jobs below their experience and qualifications.
It’s a shocking waste of talent
As if that wasn’t ridiculous enough, here’s what’s REALLY absurd:
- This isn’t a challenge facing a tiny minority of our society. It’s an issue nearly EVERY woman in this country faces when she has children.
- Forcing us all to pile onto the same trains, buses and roads every morning so we can sit behind a desk in a soulless, natural light-starved office is COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY.
Most of us have all the technology and equipment we need to work from wherever we darn well please in our back pockets – or our handbags!
Armed with a smartphone, or perhaps a laptop and a wifi connection, you can work from wherever you please, whenever you please.
We’re not ploughing fields, or on the production line in factories anymore so why are we clinging on to working the same eight hours, Monday to Friday?
It’s not even productive. You lose the ability to concentrate effectively after staring at a computer screen for two hours. Regular breaks, as well as working at times that suit you – we’re not all the same! – increase your productivity.
So does the feeling of having some control over your life.
Two thirds of MPs believe it would boost the economy if employees could work more flexibly.
So why does the nine-to-five survive?
Because most of us simply accept what we’re used to. But the days of sheep like acceptance are coming to an end.
Between 2008 and 2015 the number of mothers working as freelancers increased by a massive 70%.
70%! That’s HUGE!
Determined not to waste their talent, education and ambition professional mothers are voting with their feet, and seeking a better way. And I unashamedly encourage you to do the same.
JUST SAY NO.
- No to being a bum on a seat between nine and five, being judged by your visibility instead of your ability.
- No to spending two hours of your day packed into public transport like a sardine in a can.
- No to an outdated, unproductive model of working life that piles unnecessary amounts of stress and guilt onto your shoulders.
Until we start saying no, loudly and firmly, employers won’t listen. Until then they have carte blanche to carry on expecting us to work in an outdated, unproductive way that is toxic to family life.
The lip service they pay to flexible work as a ‘benefit’ isn’t enough.
It’s not a benefit. It’s how we should all live. A genuinely flexible approach to working hours would create a level playing field where both parents would be able to fit work around the school run and administer the Calpol in flu season. Not just mothers.
But until then it will always be predominantly mothers who choose to opt out. Because someone has to.
So I choose not to miss out on my daughter’s childhood or sacrifice my ambitions, because my employer refuses to allow me some control over my life.
I deserve more, my daughter certainly does – and so do you.