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Want to balance work and motherhood? Here’s why it doesn’t add up…

how we work

I read this article in the Guardian recently.

Essentially this mum was sidelined when she returned to work after having her child and feels that employers don’t value mothers. I fundamentally disagree with her – employers *do* value mothers which is why they collectively groan when a women gives them the happy news that they are going to be a mum.

I can see this from both sides, both as a business owner and as a mum. As a business owner, I am going to have to pay out handsomely for your ability to procreate… here’s why:

Sick leave: Firstly, you’re going to be off sick a lot more – pregnancy related sickness happens, maternity leave happens, children are germ magnets and every time they get sick, you will get sick. The reason I know this? Firstly, I’m a mum – my child is a germ magnet. And secondly I used to be an office manager and do the absence records for the whole office – mums took 3 x as much sick leave as anyone else.

Getting cover: I need to hire a replacement for your maternity leave on a temp contract and no sane person is ever going to leave a permanent job for a temp one, so I’m stuck with recruiting either someone is out of work and who doesn’t have current experience in the industry or someone who is newly graduated – both aren’t exactly ideal. The resulting strain on the rest of the team causes friction, their home lives are being affected by your choice to have a child. Even if by some miracle I manage to get someone who is of equal stature to my new mum, they will still need to be trained in how we do things at this company and that takes time and money. I fork out on HR admin, recruitment adverts, time for my senior team to interview them, to train themAnd because of the nature of maternity leave being quite vague on deciding a return date, I can’t guarantee them a job so if something better comes along, it’s very likely that they will take it and leave me in the lurch.

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Returning to work: You would think that I’d be delighted to have new mum back at her desk. But where you were once an efficient employee, you’ve come back as a sleep deprived zombie who misses her child and is on the phone to the babysitter every half hour. And that office friction I was talking about? Oh, it all comes out when the mum is back. Mark has been covering Client A for the last 9 months and doesn’t see why he’s being demoted on your return. Jenny is sick of covering your workload and is deeply unimpressed by your distraction on your return and complains daily about it. Meanwhile, you want to work part-time and can’t understand why your flexible working request has been turned down because of HR headaches in hiring and administering a new part-time employee.

The risk: Having had one child, there’s always the risk that you’ll go on to have another and that we’ll be facing all of this in another 18 months anyway.

What the writer of the Guardian’s article doesn’t mention is what job she was doing – some jobs cannot be done part-time or flexitime. I don’t want a receptionist working till 10pm and then not there on Friday, there’s no point. Likewise in a client facing role where I need to give 24:7 updates, I don’t want my account manager knocking off at 5pm on the dot or simply not working Tuesdays.

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Your priorities do change after you become a mum, and unless you are prepared to do the job to the same standards as you did before you had the baby, don’t be surprised if your bosses are less than enthusiastic about your work performance.

Look at Marisa Meyer banning home working – she did so not because she has a vendetta against mums, but because the business case was that the office based employees performed better than the remote workers. When you look at the stats, women outperform men at school, at university and then the decline hitsIf you take mothers out the equation there is no decline in earnings – showing that business is not inherently sexist, it just doesn’t work for mums.

Here’s the thing: It’s not that businesses want to devalue women, it’s that women cost more to hire. It shouldn’t be that way, but the current model of employee:employer relationship is just not designed for women to have kids and still be treated equally.

If we truly want equality, we need to change the model – it’s got to be equally as advantageous to hire a man as to hire a woman. The recent changes to parental leave go some way to achieving that, but nowhere near far enough. And let’s mention the childfree too – their home lives should be acknowledged as being as important as parents’ personal lives.

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As a mum, what do I want? I want the ability to be able to earn an income. I want to be seen as a positive role model for my children by working. I want to be able to see them often and spend some precious time with them whilst they are little. I don’t want to be a problem for my employers to deal with. I don’t want special treatment “as a woman”.

We want flexible jobs for everyone, not just parents. We want good quality, low cost childcare so parents who want to work, can. I want all jobs to have a degree of autonomy and flexibility, it empowers workers and makes them better, happier, more loyal employees. Scrapping the red tape and employment hassle is always seen as a bad thing for employees, but good employees will always be in demand and able to choose who they work with.

I’ve already achieved this. I’m a virtual assistant.

Freelancing is going to be the way that UK businesses evolve over the next 20 years. It will create jobs, boost the economy, give people life:work balance. And yet there’s still a degree of sniffiness about freelancing – that it’s somehow not as good as having “a proper job”. You couldn’t be more wrong! But that’s good for me. The longer the establishment hang onto that old style business model, the more benefits there are to hiring a freelancer. Mums, you need to let go of battling the glass ceiling and just create a new building to work in. It’s fun over here, we love it!


  1. Rachel on 22 May, 2015 at 9:27 am

    What an excellent article. Recently I decided to go the Business Show in London and met with a lot of exhibitors. One exhibitor was selling an online marketing course which cost rather a lot of money but surprisingly did not include the option of how businesses are changing from fixed buildings to home working (I can think of a number of large employers that afford this option to their employees). It also did not include the virtual model which again apart from our hallowed industry is being used by professionals such as Lawyers, Accountants, IT Consultants and by other industries as well, and therefore would be open to online marketing tools. I think change will only happen when we change, e.g. from understanding we can have a business, working with a number of companies and have the flexibility that virtual work allows.

    • Caroline on 22 May, 2015 at 11:20 am

      I think the traditional model is more or less dead… Because people are valuing work life balance above salary or prestige. I know from my time at Sony that they could not have paid me enough money to make me go to yet another Manic Street Preachers gig at the expense of getting some sleep! 80 hour weeks aren’t for me.

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