The Trouble With (Working) Women

NS May 19th, 2009

If you didn’t catch it last night on BBC2 (or you’re not in the UK), I highly recommend watching the first in a series for a new documentary called The Trouble With Working Women. Presented by Sophie Raworth and Justin Rowlatt, the first program was entitled “Why can’t a woman succeed like a man?” and explored the issues preventing women from really breaking through the glass ceiling in the professional realm. So many important issues were touched upon, including: maternity leave, sexist attitudes in the workplace, unequal pay, nature vs nuture with regards to gender differences, the effects of gender conditioning in children, how hormones affect the way male and female brains perform different tasks, the public’s attitudes towards women in the workforce, the ‘bottom line’ for businesses vs women’s desire for more flexible working hours and family-friendly practices, working mothers’ guilt, the research into what effects childcare has on children’s brains, and how second wave feminism didn’t really foresee the new set of challenges that mothers would face once they broke into the workplace.

I’ll get into my critique of what they did say in a moment, but first I’d like to address the area I felt was sorely lacking in the documentary. As usual, the fathers’ roles in all of this was hardly mentioned. Yes, there were a couple brief allusions to paternity leave needing to be increased and of men being given the option of more flexible working hours like some women have been, but it was framed in more of a “Ooh, look at the women with their long maternity leaves and four day weeks. It’s practically a vacation! See, men are really the ones getting a raw deal!” kind of frivolous way instead of realising that men’s lack of involvement in the discussion in any meaningful way is a huge factor in working women’s problems. There was no in-depth analysis of how men being willing and able to participate in family life and taking on more domestic responsibilities is extremely crucial to women achieving equality. The fact that there was no mention of the social phenomenon explored in the book of the same name, The Second Shift and how that is one of the leading (if not the most important) factors in why women haven’t been able to fully integrate into the professional world just shows how we still put all of the onus for finding “balance” between family life and career onto women while, for men, things remain largely the same. There is no such term as “working fathers’ guilt” and until there is (or we just eradicate the guilt altogether by taking equal responsibility for children), this discussion is going nowhere.

That said, I was happy to see some more complex issues tackled instead of the usual childcare and maternity leave agenda that only goes in circles and which has been covered a thousand times. Looking at how many of our gender differences are biological and which are a result of our environments was interesting because even when there are small biological differences in how our brains work, the presenters wondered if the only reason these differences are noteworthy is because our society has historically favoured men. My opinion? Hell yes! The very definitions of “success” and “business” and “power” are based on male imperatives. So not only are women struggling against false perceptions of their intelligence and capabilities, but a world that was designed for and by men, with few concessions to women’s strengths. Instead, to be truly successful, one must be like a man to some extent. Women who “think like men” are praised for shrugging off traditional stereotypes of feminine behaviour (because these are associated with weakness), but at the same time are prevented from joining the upper ranks because people tend to personally dislike women who exhibit masculine traits like aggression, direction and focus. Add to this that powerful women are threatening to many men, even the ones who heap praise on her for being “one of the boys” and it’s an extremely frustrating catch-22, one that I was glad to see the documentary touch upon.

This was illustrated perfectly by the female business owner who said she was back at work four days after having a baby because the market just doesn’t allow for any time off, even when that “break” is to give birth to another human, not go for a golfing trip somewhere warm with one’s buddies. More than just history, our capitalistic society is based on male biology. The inclusion of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and the demands of caring for small children into a normative and widespread economic structure has remained virtually nonexistent, despite small allowances like a statutory maternity leave and it being illegal to fire a woman due to pregnancy (though the latter still happens frequently). Praising women for being dedicated to their careers by returning to work literally days after giving birth (denying the realities of female biology) but at the same time judging them as substandard mothers who should be at home with their babies is the pinnacle of ridiculousness in the working mothers debate.

Equally ridiculous was the interview with the lady (I can’t remember her name) who set up the first women’s refuges in the UK. Her opinion was that feminism had “gone too far” because now, instead of having a choice in whether to work or stay at home, she felt most women had no choice but to work, that motherhood had been devalued, and that family life as a whole had suffered irreperably. While I can see her point (to a degree) because I agree that too many women’s choices have gone the opposite direction in regards to whether they feel able to choose equally between work or childrearing, and I do think that motherhood and household management have been devalued, I wholly disagree that this is somehow the fault of feminism, or second wave feminists. Again, where is the discussion on changing the entire structure of business to accomodate women, and the serious lack of initiative on men’s part to form a fathers’ movement for equal access to and responsibility for their children? The only time we see fathers publicly fighting for the right to their children is when they’re entirely taken away from them as a result of divorce (Fathers4Justice, anyone?).

But why does it take them being completely removed before they put up a fight? Where are the outspoken denouncements of men pressured to work increasingly long hours to increase their employers’ profits, taking time away from their domestic duties and quality time with their kids and decreasing the likelihood that their partners will be successful and fulfilled in their careers? Where is the outrage over media portrayals of women as long-suffering carers who act as the glue holding the family together and men as inadequate, inept and hopelessly selfish when it comes to raising children? Why are feminists expected to tackle all of these issues, and more, while many men are happy to just sit back and wait for others to bring about change that they are perhaps not even socially invested in? Could it be that they don’t want things to change? I mean, it would mean more sweeping, shopping and nappy-changing, after all, and that’s women’s stuff. A lot of men, no matter how much they love their children and respect their partners, still subconsciously think of these things as Not Their Problem. The number of times I’ve seen or heard males purporting to be feminists or feminist-supporters bemoan the way THEY are treated and marginalised on the domestic front but instead of doing something about it expect women to, once again, do the dirty work….well, let’s just say I’d be stinking rich if I got a pound in each instance. Talk about a second shift! Women are expected to work all day and then come home and run the household and fight for social change for women and then for men too. In our spare time, of course.

Step up, brothers! It’s time to be fathers. Step up, husbands! It’s time to be partners.

Until the discourse on ‘working mothers’ is changed at a fundamental level, making it a discussion on working parents that holds men just as accountable as women for how they will balance their professional and personal lives, documentaries like this, although interesting and thoughtful, will continue to create more questions than they answer and put the burden squarely on women’s already laden shoulders.

Part Two, entitled “Why can’t a woman earn as much as a man?” will air tonight at 9pm on BBC2. More commentary to come tomorrow.

23 Responses to “The Trouble With (Working) Women”

  1. So many great points there Mrs Savage.

    I don’t think I am ‘wired’ like the male stereotype. When I decided to effectively give up work to care for my son full time, a decision I started making the minute my wife died, I did get a growing discord from men, and some women, doubting it was the right thing to do, and that ‘I would need more in my life’, like as if a life around providing child care is not for men, which I think I am living proof that it totally can be. Regardless of dangly bits it is to each individual as to what they can do, are capable of, and are happy doing. I would have happily shared child care, or given up work to look after our boy, but disparity in our professional existences led us to decide upon the opposite, and that’s before you even consider the financial benefits a woman gets in maternity leave vs paternity piffle.

    Thought provoking, but probably not crusade provoking. For me, in any case.

  2. Nicola says:

    Brilliant post. I really thought my husband would step back a little from his ambitious career path once we had children, as I did, but it never happened. Of course, then he had the excuse that he had a family to provide for, but that was bs. Now we are separated and he is extremely keen for me to work more hours so that I can be more financially independant. Well, I would love that. And I do get offered consultancy work – but it tends to include 2-3 days travel and of course his busy work schedule cannot accomodate stepping into the breach to look after the boys when I get the opportunity to work. There is no flexibility on his part at all. Of course, what he really wants is for me to find a job, any job, within school hours, that will pay my bills. But I really love what I do too. And I am really bloody good at it, when I get the chance to do it of course. Why should I be the one working part time in a grocery store when he is totally unwilling to concede on a job he loves too?

    However, I do know several friends whose husbands have totally altered their working lives once the kids arrived – and both mum and dad created flexible working opportunities within blue chip corporations – to find a balance between child care, career and family life. So I know it is possible and I have seen with my own eyes amazing men who really are making a different professional choice, in true partnerships with their wives. It does give me hope. And I know I will be educating and influencing my boys differently. What a responsibility – raising the next generation of men. Heaven help me.

  3. Jill says:

    “Praising women for being dedicated to their careers by returning to work literally days after giving birth (denying the realities of female biology) but at the same time judging them as substandard mothers who should be at home with their babies”

    We should coin a term for this. How about the Postpartum Paradox?

    So, I agree that one can’t really blame an ideology or movement for the devaluation of household management. I have mulled this one over A LOT in the last few years– mostly while breastfeeding to make it extra-ironic– and I don’t think my occasional frustration over being a caregiver/at home mom at this point in my life is because of feminism. Maybe in part in that the range of choices are open to women for the most part and it would be much simpler to go clock into a cushy desk job, take lunch breaks, get rewards for good work and have a paycheck to boot. I actually think a lot of why I always feel like I’m struggling to find my way or find a system is because everything has become disposable and mass-produced. Food, clothes, toiletries, diapers, everything. We’re left with running errands to gather up all of the disposables and being a professional parent with all eyes focused on our kids’ every move and word. Frankly, that’s a relatively new concept in the course of human existence and it feels weird sometimes. Adults totally focused on kids’ every move in life… is that even good for kids?!

    OK, I need to go take care of the aforementioned kids. Nice critique. I want to see the show now. =)

  4. jen says:

    well, you know i’m totally with you on the two parent thing. but i hate it when people that say that women that “think like men” get ahead, even when disputing it, because i reject the notion that there *is* any such thing as inherently “male thinking” (or even “femininity” for that matter). while obviously the workplace for hundreds of years has been shaped by/for men, the global economy has been built on that same workplace, and it’s simply a reality that people have to work within in order to survive. (yes, work practices should have changed LONG AGO to accommodate childbearing and provide equal opportunities, but we’ve become so economically interdependent that there is no turning away from the capitalism which rules the world, no matter how it originated.) so i don’t see being amibitious or working within the existing framework as allying one’s self with the patriarchal norm, or even being rewarded for “thinking like a man”. i simply see it as a) survival in the face of economic reality in the first instance and b) the *human* impulse to take pride in achievement – whatever form that achievement may take. people who denigrate or undermine that achievement (by implying that it comes by either accession to men or at the expense of other women) only hurt women even more.

  5. Charlotte says:

    Such a great post. I see many men who do a wonderful job of parenting, and are true carers, but so many more who are not. It’s that issue that Twisty talks about: having so much privilege they can’t even see it. It is time for them to wake up.

  6. blues says:

    This post is really full of a lot of insight and I’d like to look closer at the documentary.

    I agree with you on all of these issues. My own struggle comes from giving in with my feminist ideals in order to have a harmonious marriage (i.e. at one point it becomes less exhausting to do the dishes than to bitch and moan about my husband doing it in a half-assed and pissy way), and I have tremendous guilt to myself and my beliefs for giving in.

    I find Singleparentdad’s comment interesting about “needing more in life” and the general devaluation of childcare and housework. It is automatically assumed that if you do these tasks as a job, it is menial labor, in which case should be poorly paid and if you do it for yourself as a choice to take on that role in your own family, whether male or female, you are considered to be giving up on your dreams and your fulfilment.

    Here in Spain, maternity leave is much longer, 4 months fully paid if you are working full time, afterwards you are given one hour per day to breastfeed for a year (those hours can also be accumulated and taken as further leave) While socially, there is no open (or even closed that I’ve seen) criticism of women who take their full leave, there is still no male leave at all, and I believe that it is difficult for women to move forward in their careers because even though they return to work after their maternity leave, they often do it with a shorter schedule (also their right after child bearing) and a cut-off career path to go with it. In my old job, I often had to take an early morning flight from Seville to Valencia and I would always see the same people on the flight in the morning, and on the flight coming back in the evening. Many, many times, among all the suits and ties, I was the only woman on the business flight and I would always think, “Damn. It seems like things have changed, but they really, really haven’t.”

  7. Cruella says:

    Nice, good points. I was the former city worker interviewed in front of the gorgeous city-scape backdrop. My write-up is here

  8. NS says:

    @SingleParentDad – Those people’s reactions to your decision to stay at home with your son (“You’ll need more in life”) is exactly the kind of gender conditioning I am talking about. Many people regard childcare and household management as ultimately women’s responsibility, with men expected to “help out” now and again, after the demands of their careers have been met first. So when a man takes on full-time childcare, they are often treated in one of three ways: given superhero status, viewed as ‘less manly’ or assumed to be itching to get out of the situation. Clearly, you quite enjoy being with your son and are happy with your decision (for the most part, I’m guessing!) but some people just can’t get their heads round the idea of looking after children and a house as being ‘real’ work and a job that men can do just as adeptly as women.

    @Nicola – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there re: men wanting women to be more financially independent but at the same time not being willing to be more flexible and sacrificial in their own careers. I know that I struggle with similar issues within my own marriage sometimes and it’s really complicated and difficult. My husband doesn’t feel he can lessen his hours or responsibilities until I’m earning more (true enough) but how will I ever ‘earn enough’ without having anyone to share responsibility for the kids and house (during the weekdays) with me? It goes round and round.

    @Jill – “Professional parent” — good term, I like it. That really is how it feels sometimes. And agree with you about the disposable lifestyle that most of us lead. It’s so tiring replacing everything so frequently.

    @Jen – Interesting points, thank you. Just to be clear, I too reject the notion that there is such a thing as “thinking like a man/woman” and only meant this in the ‘traditional, gender-stereotyping, common myth’ sort of way and I don’t expect all women everywhere to distance themselves from the realities of our capitalistic society and what methods of communication get one ahead over others. Essentially, I think we’re saying the same thing only I’m being perhaps a bit more idealistic about it and you’re being more realistic, if that makes sense.

    @Charlotte – I guess it’s hard to see your privilege when it’s ingrained in your skin, your existence, your being, from birth. One has to be willing to shed some of that skin in order to get a glimpse of what privilege it holds but not many people seem able to do that, especially with regard to gender.

    @blues – Thank you for your insightful comments, I agree with you completely. Especially about the conflict between ‘giving in’ to avoid conflict and feeling angry that you are doing more at home. I know that feeling well.

  9. A Free Man says:

    Step up men? I think a lot of us are. I see more and more men at home with kids during the day. I see more and more men doing the shopping. I know more and more men that take the option of staying home with the kids and working reduced or flexible hours. I’m one of them. There’s certainly less of a stigma attached to it thn there was back in the Mr Mom days.

    Obviously there’s stil iniquity. That’s unlikely to be rectified overnight. But the implication that it’s most men’s decision to work rather than stay at home is off base, I think. What about paternity leave? I would have loved to have time away from work with my son after he was born – not an option.

    A lot of us do step up, I guess is what I’m saying.

  10. NS says:

    @Cruella – You were great in the show, thanks for stopping by!

    @A Free Man – Apologies if my language was unclear. What I meant when I said men should step up was primarily a call for them to start getting serious about making these changes — personally, socially, but mostly politically. I totally agree with you that more (maybe even most) men would like more time with their families and less at work doing a job that they feel they can’t ask for any time off from. More men ARE interested in and actively participating in equal parenting and that’s a positive step in the right direction. However, like you yourself pointed out, paternity leave is crap and many men still feel unable to ask for a lightened load at work without damaging their career prospects. In your field, academia, I think the flexibility is slightly easier to come by than, say, finance.

    Also, men are portrayed as inept at household management and childcare, both in the media and by people who have bought into gender stereotyping. When they are with their kids they are ‘babysitting’, not being fathers, which I know is insulting to lots of men. This needs to change and men needs to be the ones changing it.

    All I’m pointing out is that, so far, men have largely left campaigning for this kind of change to feminism. So far, it hasn’t worked. Men are the ones controlling our laws, boardrooms and economies. Until men themselves start vocally opposing sexual discrimination against women and start advocating for equal parental rights and shared domestic responsibility (in their own right, as their own movement, not just in a chorus of “Yeah, what she said!” from the sidelines of feminism), then I really don’t think much is going to change. We’ve been saying the same things over and over for decades and fighting and fighting and scrapping and scraping but it’s not gotten us nearly as far as it should’ve. That’s because we’re not the ones with the power! If men started organising and banding together in their own ‘wave’ for political and social change, I truly believe that things will finally get done. As a feminist, it’s kind of hard to even say that, that I can’t affect the BIG changes or get rid of systemic sexism on my own, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s true. We can only do so much to get men invested in change for themselves…the rest (and most important bit) is up to you guys.

    Revolution has to start somewhere and the first suffragettes, the first women to attend universities, become doctors, be sexually free…they all had to start somewhere and take enormous risks in their lives so I don’t buy the “Well it’s going to take a long time so we might as well not even start” argument. If there’s a fire in the belly about it, people WILL find a way to fight for it. If it would just be a ‘nice bonus’ then they’ll never give it the time and attention it deserves. So which is it? (addressed to men in general, not specifically you, A Free Man).

  11. steve says:

    you said the programme didnt address the point that men should help more with child rearing and house running but they did give the stastic (without stating the source admittedly!) that only 7% of women wanted their partners to take a more prominent role in the care of the child. And 4% of men wanted to.

    you said where is the outrage from men/fathers about lack of a strong role in their child’s care, where is the protests etc… well doesnt the fact there is no visible outrage and protest tell you something?

    I thought the women’s refuge lady was very wise… i agree our culture has gone too far trying to change the natural human family roles.. bringing up a faimly is the most important thing anyone can do, thats real “success”. the traditional partnership of men and women’s roles to bring up a family works.
    I think mum’s that ditch their very young kids on nannies should feel guilty, how can a stranger do a beter job than the real mum…unless they were bad mums to start with!

    I agree 100% in freedom of choice for ALL but why are we trying to pressure women into not being full time mums, when its natural and better for the child.

  12. It has taken our family seven years, three children and a serious illness before dh has decided to step down his career … and I would still say that there is little equality in how we share out tasks.
    I was reading a few months back about a family where mum and dad has meticulously worked out sharing tasks 50-50 … I think the Guardian did a write up about this and the journalist felt that such an approach wouldn;t work for her and her partner.
    Will mention this discussion in my blog as I think it is really interesting.

  13. [...] you been watching this documentary? Check out this discussion of the programme over at Noble Savage’s blog. She looks into the factors holding women back at work that were not really addressed by the [...]

  14. Lilliput says:

    Just playing devil’s advocate here for a second –

    whats the difference between a benefit scrounger and single dad’s “professional parent”?

  15. NS says:

    @Steve – I didn’t hear that statistic given at all. At what point in the show was this supposedly said? Please, pray tell, if bringing up a family is the most important work in the world, why aren’t men doing it themselves? Surely if there was as much prestige and satisfaction in it as you say there is, men would have taken the reins long ago.

    If mums are to feel guilty for ‘dumping’ their kids with nannies, why not fathers? I don’t see them being trotted before judge and jury for social sentencing. And who, exactly, is trying to pressure women into not being stay-at-home mums if that’s what they want?

    @Antonia – I think it might’ve been Amy and Mark Vachon from Equally Shared Parenting that you’re talking about. Thanks for the link on your blog!

    @Lilliput – If you don’t know the answer to that already then I won’t dignify your offensive ‘question’ with a response.

  16. [...] This post was Twitted by singleparentdad – [...]

  17. Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If I was going to raise these kids all by myself, I’d do it all by myself in my own house without Him around to cramp my style. They’ll only get away with what you put up with. Expectations, ladies.

    We both had these kids. We both raise them. That means that dinner, and bathtime, and trips to the doctor, and diapers, and middle-of-the-night feedings, and toilet training, and scraped knees, and everything else related to child-rearing and household management are all BOTH of our responsibilities.

    Husband doesn’t get a free pass because he has a penis. And I hate to say it, but for the women married to the men that do (like Hannah Rosin so obviously complained of without realizing it) I ask you, “Why’d ja marry ‘im?” Men aren’t going to stop acting this way (and society’s view of it won’t change) until WE put our collective feet down and stop breeding with these dudes.

    If you want a man that will help you take care of the kids, and not see it as “babysitting”, then you need to marry/have kids with a man who values fatherhood and respects his wife. If you don’t know him well enough to know how he’s going to treat you/your children after you’re both parents, then stop planning the wedding and have a talk about it. Don’t just assume he’ll react any differently than society expects him to react unless he’s made it very clear that fatherhood is going to be a priority for him.

    I see a lot of dads in my cirle who prioritize fatherhood above anything else. As a matter of fact, while sitting in a meeting with the VP yesterday, the VP asked how we define success – and one of my coworkers said “Being a good dad.” And the male VP (who’s leaving the company in 2 months to help raise his grandchildren, btw) said “That really is the best measure.”

    We need to give more credit to the men who are working against incredible societal sterotypes, just as women are, to raise the next generation. And if you want to see more men like this, then marry more men like this. Little boys who grow up watching daddy be an equal care-giver are bound to do the same thing with their own children.

    Long story short — marry better ladies. If all men and women are equal care-givers, it will force change. More men need to feel personally impacted by parental issues before the largely male government will see these sorts of issues as priorities needing attention.

  18. Linda says:

    So many interesting and thought-provoking points, thank you.

    I think you have hit the nail on the head in so many areas. My own situation is that I started a business when my children were younger to work flexibly around them, with a friend met at ante-natal.

    Six years on we have a team of five and have just taken on both our partners. We’ve also been featured in national research on flexible working and my friend won an award. I say this to put my comments in focus (no-one likes a woman, who blows her own trumpet, right? :) ) Here’s something I wrote about the attitudes we have faced, a couple of years back:

    I’ve been frustrated over the years by an arguably somewhat narrow definition of “success”.

    These days am starting to be alarmed by some aspects of a debate/discussion springing up about so-called “mummybloggers” – with the inference being, what the hell do they know? I felt the same as a teenager when haughty critics sneered at my taste/knwledge etc – in the same way society can sneer at the tastes of “grannies”!

  19. Shannon says:

    Excellent, well-written post. I’d love to see this documentary, I wonder if I can access it somehow here in Canada.

    I totally agree with TheFeministBreeder – we must see some of this before we are married. I could see what a huge role family had in my husband’s life before we were married, and I was right, his kids have become his whole life. He was actually laid off from a very stressful job last winter that ended up being a blessing in disguise – he ended up getting another job with more reasonable hours, and he loves it. He is home much earlier and is so thrilled to help out and spend more time with our three kids. It makes me so sad to see so many women empowering their husbands to take a back-seat in parenting decisions and responsibilities. You can do something about it, and the entire family will benefit from it.

    I’ve also seen women back at work days or mere weeks after having a baby and being praised for this. I wonder why I am so seldom praised for accepting my year-long maternity leaves to care for, nuture, love and breastfeed my babies. I feel strongly that my choice should garner that type of praise as well.

    And, Steve, I don’t think (and I have not seen the documentary) that anyone is pressuring women to go back to work and not stay at home if that is their choice. It is a choice, and a challenging one at that, so I believe a woman should be able to choose either side and feel confident that she is doing what is best for she and *her* family.

  20. [...] to yesterday’s post, I’m offering up my thoughts on part two of The Trouble With Working Women, which aired last [...]

  21. Cave Mother says:

    Fascinating discussion, and one which I find highly relevant as I contemplate returning to study. Just a thought – I wonder if the parental leave arrangements in Scandinavia have affected the perception of the male role in childcare. In Sweden, for example, parents are entitled to 16 months paid leave per child. A minimum of 2 months out of the 16 is required to be used by the “minority” parent which is usually the father. Norwegian parents can also share their parental leave entitlement (a fact which may contribute to their higher than average birth rate? –

  22. cartside says:

    Cave Mother, similar regulations apply in Germany and interestingly, I’ve had this discussion a lot with a work colleague. In Germany, it has led to a higher uptake of paternity leave, not sure about percentage, but it’s not revolutionised things. My colleague is convinced that fathers would not take up the offer if it existed. I’m not sure – if it was an option, at least it would become more common that fathers were involved in early parenting, and it would slowly lead to a change in perception.
    NS, the points about forgetting about the fathers role can be transferred to so many other areas. I have a professional interest in early years, all parenting programmes, single parent support, getting single parents back to work etc are aimed at mothers, not fathers. Fathers are ignored everywhere and then end up not having confidence in their parenting skills. Society doesn’t think they have this role, or that they can do this role, so it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

    One thing though – the biology of women having children and breast-feeding does exclude fathers at the very start, as does lack of decent paternal leave (2 weeks? this is such a joke! Esp. considering 30% of deliveries are by c-section). This means that the effort to include fathers will always be great. And if you breast feed, the pattern will be that mum is doing it all. Which in my case was true (at the start only I hasten to add and which we’ve overcome now).

  23. Liz says:

    Some very good points – and as usually there has been some dvierse coverage in the media including some fiesty comments from Suart Rose (M&S CEO)

    According to Stuart Rose there is no glass ceiling. Women can have it all – babies and careers. “They’ve never had it better”

    According to the Equalities review “Clearly there is one factor that above all leads to women’s inequality in the labour market – becoming mothers”

    Who is right?

    61% of working mothers would work regardless of financial need according to UK wide, cross sector research with over 1500 working mothers. The research conducted by Mayfield Associates in conjunction with the UK’s two leading parenting charities; Working Families and the NCT also showed that 95% of all working mothers saw their ideal family as a family where both parents are working.

    Although there is a strong desire to work only 3 out of 10 women found the return to work following maternity leave easy. The remaining 7 out of 10 highlighted significant damage to their psychological contracts, many of whom felt this was irreparable.

    The costs of loosing good employees are potentially very high, both in terms of hard costs (e.g. tribunals and replacement costs) and softer measures such the loss of tacit knowledge, loss of key relationships with staff, clients and suppliers as well as corporate reputation and workforce motivation.

    Research from Catalyst shows that productivity and profitability excel in organisations with at least 3 female board members. Research from London Business School shows that team with 50/50 men and women are more innovative. Despite the obvious benefits of employing women, a recent publication by PWC illustrated a leaking pipeline of female talent; for most companies a gender balanced intake of junior recruits falls to 30% women at managerial level, 15% at senior executive and 10% or less at board level.

    The Mums Going Back to Work research program ( found that Line Managers and Bosses were seen as pivotal in ensuring a smooth return to work following maternity leave.

    Having gain insight into mothers’ experiences we are now seeking organisations to help us develop the employers’ perspective through interviews and benchmarking.

    Our aim: to develop evidence based support for women, line managers and organisations to ensure a smooth transition to working motherhood that benefits the mother, her family and her employer.

    Do you care about increasing organisational performance?
    Do you have a story of great practice to share?

    Find out more about the program, how you could help and the benefits visit