November 6, 2023
The ongoing challenges that come from balancing childcare with work have forced over 249,124 working mothers of children aged 4 or under to leave their employer due to a lack of childcare support, according to new research. The new report from Totaljobs and the Fawcett Society, Paths to parenthood: Uplifting new mothers at work, claims to demonstrate the disproportionate impact childcare responsibilities have on women and their careers.
The workforce is made up of more mothers than ever before, but post-childbirth inequalities are not only impacting women disproportionately, but also risk the overall productivity of the UK workforce. One in five working mothers (19 percent) have considered leaving their job due to the challenges that come with balancing work with childcare duties. One in ten (11 percent) have handed in their notice because of this, rising to 13 percent of single mothers. Too many women are stuck in roles that are below their capabilities, missing out on opportunities to progress their careers, and essentially consigning them to the ‘mummy track’ forever.
Balancing work and childcare responsibilities also put further pressure on the UK’s already weakened productivity. Alongside the mothers exiting the workforce, 72 percent of working parents have had to take unpaid leave due to childcare responsibilities, with higher rates for women from non-white backgrounds (79 percent) and single mothers (73 percent). A meaningful commitment to closing the gender pay gap and supporting returning mothers must consider the different and specific experiences of women from these groups.
Undervalued and overlooked
Around 79 percent of women have faced barriers trying to advance their career while managing childcare. Over two-fifths (41 percent) have even turned down a promotion or career development opportunity due to concerns it wouldn’t fit in with their childcare arrangements – 4 percent more than working fathers. The figures are even higher when looking at single mothers, with half (49 percent) turning down career progression opportunities.
This hampered development is also tied up with underlying attitudes to working mothers, with a third of employers wrongly assuming that pregnant women and mothers are less interested in career progression. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, (76 percent) remain just as ambitious after having a child, with 44 percent saying they are more ambitious. However, 68 percent of working mothers feel their capabilities and contributions are sometimes undervalued or overlooked in the workplace.
The motherhood pay penalty
Alongside the barriers to career progression, the research highlights the ongoing financial pressure facing working parents. 85 percent of parents have faced financial challenges from balancing childcare responsibilities and work, with women disproportionately bearing the brunt of that burden.,
This burden is particularly felt by women, who are 1.4 times (35 percent vs 25 percent) more likely to feel strained by childcare costs than fathers, 1.5 times more likely to be stressed by household bills (34 percent vs 22 percent), and an additional 1.5 times more likely to struggle with saving for future expenses (34 percent vs 22 percent).
Looking much longer term, a quarter (25 percent) of women who have one child say they would like to have more but cannot afford to. With birth rates continuing to decline, it appears the ongoing pressures of balancing childcare costs with work could ultimately cause an even tighter labour market in the future.
The most popular form of support that parents (26 percent of fathers, 39 percent of mothers) want their workplace to offer is flexible work arrangements. This is echoed by businesses, with a vast majority (83 percent) of HR leaders noting improved productivity when the right support is implemented. 70 percent saw better employee retention and 69 percent believe having the right policies in place resulted in increased employee attraction.
Despite the research revealing women would benefit most from more flexible working, only a third of mothers (31 percent) have access to the flexible working arrangements that they need.
Working mothers are also less likely to have flexible working requests approved than their male counterparts. 43 percent of working fathers that have requested flexible working have this approved vs 39 percent of working mothers. What’s more, 69 percent of women did not receive flexible work arrangements during their transition back to work.
At the job search stage, 85 percent of mothers struggle to find jobs that can accommodate their childcare needs. This leaves 31 percent of mothers feeling trapped in their current positions – passing up better career prospects elsewhere.