The notion of the ‘working mum’ is always a hot topic, most recently with the release of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In1 (back in the headlines). Sandberg writes that women ‘can have it all’ and goes on to tell us how she has, but the reality is that most UK working women are not the COO of a multi-billion dollar company and their experience of being a working mother is often very different.
Women make up nearly half of the UK’s workforce and it is estimated that between 80% – 85% of the working women will become pregnant during employment2. Yet, research by the Equal Opportunities Commission revealed that on returning to work, almost one third felt they did not fit in any more and two in five said they lacked the support of their employer. Almost 20% expressed concern about the rising costs of childcare, managing multiple responsibilities and quite simply not having enough time to do everything3.
Yet maximising women’s contribution to the UK’s future economic growth makes sound financial sense. The Women’s Business Council (WBC) advises the Government on how to boost female employment and reports that there are 2.4m women who are not working but want to work, and a further 1.3m who want to increase their hours. If these 3.7m women were working to the extent they choose, the WBC estimates the boost to the economy would be 0.5 percent a year4.
Netmums co-founder Sally Russell has accused employers of ‘wasting an incredible talent pool’ saying that British women are paying a shockingly high price for motherhood and are often forced into part-time; lower skilled jobs, post pregnancy5.
On the flip side, being a new mother can be a creative experience in more ways than the obvious. 34% of new businesses are headed by women. There are some 300,000 mumpreneurs working in the UK and business is booming for 90% of them6.
This movement towards self-employment highlights the need for greater flexibility in working practice; the advantages to employees are manyfold. Women are renowned multi-taskers and post pregnancy most operate at maximum efficiency. Employers who successfully manage pregnancy describe it as an integral part of their long-term business strategy, a key investment that is returned through: improved talent, skills and knowledge retention, lower absenteeism and better moral – not to mention a constantly developing and more productive workforce7.
A flexible approach to working mothers employment will not answer the problem of the burgeoning cost of child care, but it will give mothers a degree of increased choice and balance. Working flexibly can include part-time, job-sharing, compressed hours and a shorter working week. Technology is facilitating a new approach as to how and where we work and inspired business leaders would do well to embrace the benefits.
Not everyone aspires to be COO of Facebook but there is no reason why all working mothers should be not be given the support of the Government and of their employer, particularly when they are the mothers of our next generation.
1 Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (12 March 2013) Randome House
2 NCT. The experiences of women returning to work after maternity leave in the UK
3 EOC’s investigation into pregnancy discrimination: Greater expectations
4 Women’s Business Council: Maximising women’s contribution to future economic growth
5 The price of motherhood: women and part-time work
7 EOC’s investigation into pregnancy discrimination: Greater expectations