Let’s Talk: Working Mums

Did anyone see the Belfast Telegraph a week or two ago?

Just in case you didn’t, the paper released its annual list of Top 100 Companies and only three of the biggest firms in Northern Ireland are led by women.

They are Sara Venning, chief executive of Northern Ireland Water, which is in second place, Elaine Birchall who heads up SHS Group, which is ranked at number 20, and Darina Armstrong, the chief executive of Progressive Building Society, at number 54.

I don’t count myself as a feminist, nowhere near in fact, but I find this depressing.

My mum always told me to work hard so I would never have to rely on a man to look after me.

She has taught me many things over the years, but this is probably the greatest lesson, and with this in mind I worked hard at school, I went to university, I began a career in journalism.

It’s a job I love, I love writing, I love the variety, the people I meet, and even after almost 20 years, I still get a buzz from breaking a big story.

And yet, my career has faltered somewhat since becoming a mum – and I know I’m not the only one.

Let’s look at the facts – figures released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency’s highlight the challenges being faced by mums.

The report has revealed that the number of economically active females with no dependent children between January and March of this year stood at 179,000.

This dropped to 75,000 for women with one child, 67,000 for those with two children, and 30,000 for those women who have three or more children.

Essentially, the more children you have, the less likely it is that you will work.

Businesswoman Sinead Norton, herself a mum-of-seven, set up the fabulous Mums at Work network which has more than 2,500 members.

Sinead estimates 80% of women in the group have set up a business after becoming a mum, even if it is just to supplement income from paid employment.

She said there are a number of barriers stopping women getting ahead at work.

“Being overwhelmed is one factor,” she explained.

“Being a mum and a working woman means spinning a lot of plates and women tend to put others first, so major burnout can happen.

“This is followed by a lack of drive, especially when there is a lack of appreciation from employers. 
“Childcare is so expensive too, it’s hard to justify the cost of going to work after paying childcare and travel.”

I can vouch for that – with two children, the cost of childcare is prohibitive (even with one at school).

In fact, taking the cost of childcare into consideration, it frequently isn’t even worth my while going to work.

For me, working from home has provided the perfect solution, but I’m fortunate that my job allows me to do that.

There are many women out there who aren’t so lucky.

So, what is the solution?

Sinead said: “Letting women work from home where possible and keeping their positions close to home rather than moving them around.

“Flexible working times would also help.

“Being able to work on their own initiative and being trusted rather than micro-managed and a display of appreciation goes a long way.”

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