When you meet a fellow mama there are a few hot topics that will break the ice every time.
These are issues that everyone will have something to say on, from how you’re sleeping to the endless feeding.
But there’s no subject that can stir up quite so much irritation in me as returning to work after maternity leave. More specifically than that, the request for flexible working.
I’ve lost count of the number of mums I have met who are dissatisfied with the deal given to them by their employer. I’m not talking about the difficulty in balancing the cost of childcare vs what you actually take home in pay, that’s another rant altogether and if you want to read more about my feelings on that particular sore point check out this post here about childcare costs.
Nope, I mean the inflexibility of so-called flexible working and more specifically, the attitudes that exist around the subject of women returning to work after having a baby.
Time and time again I hear the same things from friends and new acquaintances:
I wasn’t allowed to start earlier and finish by 3pm so I could do the school pick up.
I had to be at my desk by 8am and nursery doesn’t open until then.
I wasn’t allowed to reduce my days to three per week.
I was expected to continue doing long-distance travel.
I asked to work from home one-day a week but was turned down.
I could go on and on. There are dozens of scenarios from women who had a LOT to offer a company. Not least because they had already been working for that company for a period of time before they became so selfish they just had to pop out a baby (honestly how dare they).
These are women who have already proven themselves time and time again to their employer. An employer who gave them a job in the first place, dolled out praise about their abilities left, right and centre, but then wouldn’t give these women the flexible working hours they requested.
Why after women have had a baby are employers not interested in giving just an inch so that they can be focused on work 100 per cent of the time they are in working hours?
There are so many ways to make employment work for new mums. Many jobs can be done from home these days, particularly office-based ones. When it comes to meetings, these can be conducted over Skype or Zoom.
The traditional working hours of 9am to 5pm are not set in stone. Why does it have to be this or nothing?
Finding the compromise is easy, as long as it’s a two-way conversation.
There needs to be a willingness to work together. But from the stories I have heard, I think many people are faced with employers who will say no at any cost, no matter what suggestions are put before them and no matter how talented the employee.
Sadly I think there is still a very outdated attitude towards women that automatically writes them off after they have had children. And in addition to that, there’s a negative attitude towards women who request fewer hours, as if we are going to be off on jollies the rest of the week while everyone else in the office is still slaving their guts out. Hello! We have kids to look after. Being in the office is like going on a summer holiday!
For me it boils down to being indicative of the fact we still live in very much a man’s world. Even today, in modern Britain.
Attitudes need to change. And they needed to change a long time ago!
We’re not just talking about a tiny proportion of the population here. We are talking about all mums. That’s a huge percentage of the workforce and a lot of them are out there wanting to do some kind of work.
Figures from the fabulous Pregnant Then Screwed organisation show that 54,000 women lose their jobs for getting pregnant and 390,000 working mums experience negative and potentially discriminatory treatment at work each year.
What a huge loss to the workforce to have so many skilled professionals forced out of the workplace because they were not allowed to work from home or they were told it wasn’t possible to take every other Friday off work.
So just for clarity to anyone who gets a flexi working request land on their desk and rolls their eyes as they mutter about “bloody liberty-takers”:
Having a baby is not an inconvenience, it is a universal occurrence. A lot of people do it. It’s part of normal every day life. Stop treating it like it’s a problem.
Having kids is a life-changing event. You need to give a little to make room for this life-changing event. No, we are not the same as we were before we had a baby. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do the job we were doing beforehand.
We don’t just have the skills we had before going on maternity leave, we have more now.
Before you automatically go to respond “computer says nooooo”, stop and think. How can we make this work for us both. Is it really an issue if Barbara doesn’t arrive at work until 9.30am on Mondays and then leaves at 2.30pm on Fridays?
Think about what you are losing by failing to hang on to this loyal employee.
Imagine the possibilities if you have an extremely happy and motivated workforce.
Ask yourself, can you really afford to rule out nearly half the working population from your workforce?
Have you experienced discrimination after falling pregnant or having a baby? I would be really interested to hear your stories.