Between the lines: Mothers, you can’t have it all

More women than ever are juggling the commitments of work and family. Picture: TSPL
More women than ever are juggling the commitments of work and family. Picture: TSPL
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I was surprised to see claims that more than three quarters of working mothers have experienced pregnancy or maternity-related discrimination.

Apparently, they are missing out on promotion, being denied training, and even threatened with the sack for their life choice. Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggested that a staggering 77 per cent believed they had been discriminated against.

While the Commission called for the government to take “urgent action” to stop the equivalent of 390,000 women supposedly experiencing negative treatment at work, calling it “unacceptable in modern Britain”, I would suggest that the survey findings were skewed towards something of a foregone conclusion. After all, the research wasn’t carried out by the Absolutely No Problems Here Commission.

Glassdoor Economic Research cited the “high cost of motherhood”, and suggested that children only served to widen the so-called “gender pay gap”, if such a thing exists. I don’t think it does.

It is a far more complex, nuanced situation than such sweeping declarations would suggest. However, my main issue is that they just do not tally with any experience I’ve had in almost two decades in recruitment – and frankly, if true, then employment lawyers would have an absolute field day. At the moment in Scotland, they are most certainly not.

Employers simply cannot be that brazen in discriminating towards working mothers. If discriminatory employers were as widespread as the research suggests, then they would face serious repercussions and their name would be blackened in our world of high-speed communication.

Clearly, more women than ever are juggling the commitments of work and family, yet some expect all the plates to keep spinning without any falling. Of course, that’s not necessarily their fault – not when their generation has been reared on the dubious notion that you really can have it all. You can’t; something has to give.

A career and motherhood shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, but how can you expect to maintain your career trajectory when you’re naturally devoting more and more time to your young family, while trying to avoid shelling out horrifically huge sums for childcare? The vast majority of businesses I deal with do everything possible to support both pre and post-pregnancy, but they are just that – a business.

Arguably, being a mother is the most important job you’ll ever do – and cutting back your work hours is the best decision you can make in the interests of your family. If that means that your career advancement is put on ice, then so be it.

I have yet to meet a hugely successful working mother who doesn’t rue the trading of family time against work time.

• Sarah McParland is director of Glasgow-based recruitment specialist Lusona.