Anti-mum bias is so 2019. It's time to shake up the way companies see working mums.
Two years ago I attempted to return to work after the birth of my first child. With tertiary qualifications and 10 years experience working in the finance industry, I wasn't concerned about being able to find work. But after 6 months of looking for a new role, I realised job hunting pre-baby was a very different scenario to doing it post-baby.
The first roadblock was trying to find part-time work. Unless you have a current employer who is open to flexible work arrangements, seeking part time work, is difficult. If there was part time work in my industry, it was usually over 4 - 5 days at reduced hours. Taking into account the cost of childcare, the pay would not be enough to support my family. It probably would have been helpful for mums with school aged kids but not me.
The second roadblock was convincing potential employers that despite the time you've spent on leave, you haven't forgotten everything you knew before having a baby, and are still just as qualified as people without children. Trying to get my foot back in the door at the same level was almost impossible.
During one interview I was told flat out, that although I was qualified for the job, they were afraid at the amount of carers leave I would take if my child became sick. It was a very sobering experience, and one I quickly found was not unique. Discrimination against mums is rife in every industry.
One friend, who had taken maternity leave from her employer, found that when she returned her role had completely changed, which is not allowed. The new role was not something she wanted to do and was not what she was qualified for. She felt she was being pushed out because her employer thought she would have more children and need to take more leave in the future.
Another friend I spoke to shared her experience of being allowed to return to work part-time after maternity leave, but with the same workload, trying to do a full time job in reduced hours. She didn't want to complain for fear of losing her job completely, because she knew how difficult it would be to find another part-time job.
Of course, there are employers out there who embrace working mothers for their life experience and ability to juggle so much. I'm lucky to have found an employer (another mum) who allows me to work part-time from home. She has a child of her own in daycare, and understands that kids get sick and supports me, rather than making me feel like I am letting her down when I have to care for my little boys. She is part of a small group of people who understand how flexibility can work in everyone's favour.
Work life balance has been a huge topic of conversation during the coronavirus pandemic. With so many people working from home, balancing work with caring for children, more people became aware of the stress caused by trying to do both with little support, and how work and family can't be compartmentalised anymore. Whenever we need to leave early to pick up sick kids from daycare, or check emails after hours to prepare for the next day, they are unavoidably encroaching on one another.
ABC wrote an article recently on how the coronavirus pandemic will change the way we work in the future to create more cohesion between work and school hours. Parents are constantly having to juggle drop off, pick up and school holidays with a complicated system of daycare, before and after school care, and a stressful commute. Now is the time to change the way workplaces operate, while there is already so much upheaval and change happening in the corporate world.
I asked some mums what would make working life easier for them and this is what they said:
Flexible hours; such as allowing workers to work longer hours during school terms, so they can work reduced hours in school holidays.
Carers leave that doesn’t come out of sick leave (so mums don't have to save their sick days for when their kids are ill, and go into work when they are unwell). This is something all employees could use, for things such as looking after elderly relatives.
Job-sharing opportunities for roles that need to be full time, so mums can still work part-time.
Fully subsidised childcare, including before and after school care, and vacation care, so that all of our wages don't get eaten up by fees.
Facilities on site for kids to come in with their parents, such as a family room set up with toys, TV and art and craft, for times like school holidays or pupil free days.
Access to childcare available outside 9-5 hours (nurses particularly wanted this to help with shift work).
Paternity / partner leave being equivalent to maternity leave so that men can take on more domestic responsibilities.
Being able to qualify for paid maternity leave for second pregnancies, without needing to return to work in between (if you choose not to). This prevents the inevitable disruption that is caused by coming back and leaving again soon after.
While not all workplaces would be able to offer all these benefits, companies who can implement some of these things, might be pleasantly surprised by how well they work.
Hopefully in a post COVID-19 world, more employers will start to understand the importance of flexibility, so that there is less discrimination directed at working mothers. The fact that there is a pay gap of 14% between men and women, speaks volumes about how far we have to come.