I’m somewhat of a rarity at my age – 30, and child-less – working my way up the career ladder in the hope that I’ll gain that next promotion or pay rise, reassuring myself that my gender shouldn’t matter.
I’m lucky – Recruitment, once a male-dominated industry, is now hiring more women than ever and if you can pick up the phone and engage professionals within the current, heavily saturated market, then you’re in – regardless of sex.
But would things change if my circumstances altered – if my “child-less” status became pregnant, or married with a brood of 4 – could I stay consistent at work, whilst my home-life changed dramatically? Hot off the press over the last few weeks have been multiple articles concerning ‘Maternity Discrimination’ – even though there are record numbers of women in work currently, the on-going struggle between a happy home life and a successful career rages on, with more and more women voicing their battle to work AND care for their family.
Over the last 2 years I’ve been lucky enough to welcome multiple new additions into my friendship circle – not a month goes by that a pregnancy scan isn’t circulated across various social media platforms (Facebook is a particularly popular arena for such announcements – with hoards of expectant parents trying to out-do the last quirky “mum to be” photo), or that I receive an invite for a friend’s baby shower, which I attend armed with multiple, colour-appropriate, neatly wrapped baby-grows. My friends talk of the joy of their latest addition, their desire to do it all again, but then this is equally matched with the dreaded conversation of “should I return to work?” often for less money and a more junior position.
Over 50,000 women a year in the UK are now choosing to stay at home over returning to work (a rise of 50% since 2005) – and many voice their upset at facing discrimination before and during their maternity leave. The bleak statistic that women who do return to the workplace after maternity will lose on average a third of their previous salary, as well as cut their chances of a promotion / pay-rise, demonstrate the very real, and current dilemma for many households. Redundancy threats during maternity also pave the way for women to choose to stay at home, rather than trawl the job-boards seeking ‘gold-dust’ part-time vacancies.
So with Teresa May at the helm, will the government finally enforce stricter laws to protect expectant mothers? (Perhaps taking a lead from German employment law, whereby employers require the Government’s approval to dismiss a female worker for reasons relating to having a child). The ‘fear of being honest’ with your employer is a very real and current issue – a pregnancy should be a time for celebration, but often letting your boss know this exciting news can be a daunting prospect. A very un-nerving fact in a world where work-life balance seems to be the ultimate, but yet very unreachable goal for most career-driven, yet family focused women.
Hopefully a review of The Women and Equalities Committee is long overdue – the trend of commonplace pregnancy discrimination needs to change, and fast. A future full of pregnancy celebration, matched with workplace success should be achievable –but until the stigma of working mothers changes, this will still be a very distant aspiration. Can women have it all? The jury is still out on this one…