How work can work for mothers

Claire Hobson

Friday, 16 March 2018

Not everyone is a mother. But taking a mother-centric approach in the workplace has wider benefits for all carers, for the economy and for wider society.

Some of us are mothers by accident, some have yearned for their babies for years, and others choose not to have children. But we all have an interest and role to play in improving the lot of all mothers and not just the white middle class “yummy mummies” we see in the media every day. Fathers should not be excluded, indeed we need them on board. They have a special role to play, not only in sharing in the upbringing of their children but in helping the mothers of their children and those that support them to challenge the assumptions and prejudices of the patriarchy. And we must not forget single parents, of any gender, or LGBTQ parents, or disabled parents.

Mothers are often invisible in the workplace for promotion or high-profile assignments but are very visible when they are a “problem”. Leaving early or late for school pick up, taking leave to tend to a sick child, working part-time.

Just under half of the working population in the UK is female. In 2017 Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) found that the gender wage gap (the difference between what men and women earn across the whole working population) was 16.9%. This is partly explained by the fact that more women overall earn less because they are more likely to be in part time or lower paid jobs but, as we have seen recently with examples including the BBC, this does not account for the whole difference. Graduates enter the workplace roughly 50:50 women to men. As their careers progress more and more women are left behind. Only 22% of FTSE board positions are held by women in the UK, compared to 34% in Sweden. PwC estimated that compared to the UK, the increase in GDP due to the high employment rates of women in Sweden was 9.1%, or $248 billion. In the UK there are 4.9 million mothers with dependent children, up from 3.7 million in 1996. Nearly three quarters are working mums. Single parents are less likely to work: 71.7% of single fathers are in work, compared to 93% of fathers in a couple; and 68.5% of single mothers work compared to 75% of mothers in a couple.

Clearly UK policies for working mums (and single dads) in the UK are not fit for purpose and a more radical and progressive approach is needed to support them to achieve their potential and (if they have them) dads/partners to play a greater role in the upbringing of their children.

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