By Jen Taylor
This is a loaded question with an obvious answer: of course they shouldn’t - men don’t need to, women shouldn’t either. But maybe it’s not always so obvious?
What I want to address here are the difficulties surrounding this issue. Even if legislation clearly states that women cannot be discriminated against for the fact that they are female, it’s bound to be an obvious consideration for many employers.
Imagine for a moment, if you will, that you are a manager and you are recruiting for a new, high powered position. Two top candidates: a 30 year old man and a 30 year old woman. Both are very well qualified, both are easy to get along with and would fit into the team well. The main difference is in the fact that the woman will at some point be likely to start a family. And so may the man. But while typically the man may take a few months off work at the most, the woman will work up until the baby is born (perhaps somewhat distractedly as she progresses through trimesters, we’re not superhumans!), then take maybe a year off work. Her position is then vacant for the year and needs to be temporarily filled – who knows if she’ll really return, but if she’s on maternity leave then the position must remain in her absence. Once she does return, maybe she’ll want to do so part time. Her hours might change. She’ll inevitably take more days off as the child starts going to day care and gets sick often. Then, 18 months later she might decide to do it all again.
While people will always choose to hire someone with some sort of bias (prefer one person’s smile, manner, dress sense, etc.), gender must be an obvious, if only inadvertent distinction. If a man came to a job interview and said ‘look, I’m keen to work, but only for a year. Then I’m going to take a year off, then come back for a year and only be part time. Then I think I might take another year off’ and so on and so forth, no one will hire him. So why should they be expected to decide to hire a female who is likely to do the same?
Unfortunately, I have no answers.
Different jobs obviously lend themselves better to leading this double life – teachers can potentially start and finish work each day at the same time as their children and look after them during holidays, some jobs lend themselves to working from home, others have more flexible hours and parents can juggle child duties between them. There can be ways to balance both.
But let’s face it, a high powered lawyer, working long hours in the office, constantly working at home outside of core hours, is going to have to decide whether they want to dedicate their life to their career or their family. A father can spend minimal amount of time around his children, if that’s what he chooses, but this isn’t so much of an option for women.
A study conducted by The Guardian back in 2012 showed that 70% of mums surveyed ended up in jobs post pregnancy that they would have felt below them previously. Four in ten hadn’t tried to re-establish themselves in their chosen profession, as they felt they would struggle to succeed. Forty per cent felt they weren’t as sharp as they used to be and would struggle to re-join a high-powered office. Over 50 per cent said they had lost the confidence to take up the same level of responsibility as before they had children. Additionally, one quarter was envious of friends and former colleagues who had chosen to continue focusing on their careers.
Starting a family is a choice that women need to think about in general, but does the added stress of career mean that the most highly driven, motivated and educated women are opting for career rather than procreation?
Many workplaces and Governments already have, or are putting in place, mentoringprograms, flexible working, better communication and adaptable approaches to new ways of working that can accommodate mothers, but there’s no denying it’s an uphill battle, and is likely to remain one for some time.
The Guardian, Why do women still have to choose between careers and families? December 2, 2012. http://careers.
AAT, Mums stuck in ‘Groundhog Day’ lack confidence when returning to work. December 11, 2012. http://www.aat.org.uk/
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