Mumming It At Work

There are many things my mum has taught me over the years, but perhaps the greatest lesson was to work hard at school and get a good job so I never have to rely on a man to look after me.

She probably doesn’t realise how much her words have inspired and motivated me over the years, and her advice has certainly served me well.

However, nowhere along the way did she ever tell me that my hopes and aspirations for my career might be quelled simply because I happened to be born a girl.

And yet the fact is, my professional life has taken a bit of a hit because I’m a woman.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not a feminist (far from it) and I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced any of the overt discrimination that makes its way to an employment tribunal hearing.

That being said, I did have one former employer, who, as I handed in my resignation to head off to pastures an awful lot greener, told me I was no loss to the business because “you’ll only get married and have babies”!!!

I laughed at the time, more astonished that anyone would feel it was an appropriate comment to make, but I have come to realise since then that becoming a mum can be a hindrance to getting on at work.

It was after the arrival of my eldest, Grace, that I took voluntary redundancy from a job I had worked so hard for, knowing that I would never be able to fulfil both roles to the best of my ability.

Fortunately my industry allowed me to work shifts as a freelancer, but Ethan’s arrival has curbed my ability to do even that as the cost of childcare for two children (even with one in school) is, quite simply, crippling.

I know I’m not the only one who has found it difficult juggling family and work life, a fact borne out by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency’s (NISRA) quarterly labour force report.

It 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.

I’m sure that many of these women would like to work, either to help pay the bills or for their own sanity and self-esteem, but childcare costs prevent them from doing so.

Like so many women, I’ve had to change the way I work since having children and these days, the majority of my work is done sitting at the kitchen table, with the bulk being done when the kids are in bed.

However, not everyone is able to move so seamlessly from being employed to being their own boss after becoming a parent.

And then, of course, being self-employed can be terribly isolating, particularly when you’re used to working in a busy office, which is why the Mums at Work group has been such a fantastic resource.

Set up by entrepreneur Sinead Norton, herself a mum-of-seven, it has more than 2,500 members and provides advice, support and opportunities to meet up and network with other working mums.

So, what barriers does she think face mums who want to get ahead at work?
“Being overwhelmed is one factor,” she said.
“Being a mum and a working women means spinning a lot of plates and women tend to put others first so major burnout can happen, 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.” 

Sadly, helping parents cover childcare costs is not an issue that is likely to be resolved any time soon, so like me, there are hundreds of thousands of women out there waiting for their children to grow up before they can return to full-time employment.

But, in the meantime, what does Sinead believe should happen?
“Letting women work from home where possible and keeping their positions close to home, rather than moving them around would be useful,” she said.

“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 also goes a long way.”

It may not sit well with some that mums should be entitled to things like flexible working, but this attitude needs to change.

Think of the wealth of experience, knowledge and appetite to work that is currently being lost because it is simply too expensive or too difficult for a woman with children to work.

Special working conditions that make it possible for mums to work shouldn’t be regarded as perks, rather they should be seen as a welcome necessity that would allow the tens of thousands of women who are currently being excluded from the workforce to contribute to society and to help support their families.

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