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It’s time to be honest about the pressure of having a career and raising children

By Alexa Ranussi Ramos, Sales Manager, A Million Ads 

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps people find and finesse their public voices.

According to a McKinsey study more women than men report exhaustion, burnout and pressure to work long hours, yet employers are convinced that the workplace is designed equally for males and females. 

How often have you heard that mothers are “superwomen”? We are talented problem solvers, but that does not mean we aren’t laid low with the immense pressure on our mental and emotional states, caught between home and work. So often, mothers bend themselves to breaking point, trying to take care of everything. We’re pressured to be the perfect mother, partner, lover, friend, employee, entrepreneur; it’s often impossible to be the perfect everything – or possibly anything!

I am one of the many mothers who use annual leave to augment and manage childcare. A time that has been created for us to reset, relax and recharge is spent simply keeping up with the pressures of life.Motherhood changes everything at work, at home, and within yourself. You realise that you are far busier than usual and that societal and personal notions of success are converging, causing you to undergo a complex shift. We feel as though we are the first to take on the challenge of managing work and family, and many of us feel alone in our struggle. These are some of the many reasons our mental health is suffering. 

Women in the workplace are isolated, in part, because there aren’t enough programs and policies to address our needs.  An article by Holly Tingey et al. on the Perceptions of Working Mothers shows that a mother’s participation in the labour force enhances her self-esteem, improves her mental health, and increases her status and resources. This suggests that the answer to the issue is not to encourage mothers to become homemakers but to tailor the workplace to welcome them and accommodate their needs. 

Research by Direct Line Insurance shows that mothers are usually the primary caregivers. “While 83% of parents believe society’s attitudes towards childcare have changed since they were young, two thirds (64%) of mothers are still the primary carer for their children, compared to just a third (36%) of fathers. While workplaces are increasingly family-friendly – offering flexible working hours, the option to work from home and shared maternity/paternity leave – two-fifths (41%) of parents don’t think fathers are held to the same standards by society”.  

When children are sick, mothers tend to be the ones to step in, missing out on work even if dads are involved. A study by Visier found that 70% of full time working women do all or most of the caregiving in their home. According to new research from Bionic using statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the employment rate of mothers has dropped 20% lower than fathers.  Indeed found that 29% of women reduced their working hours during the pandemic, and 9% have left the labour market entirely. Similarly, another study by Visier found that 42% of women with children considered leaving the workforce. This isn’t a small problem, for a few people – it’s endemic across our society and needs a proactive approach.

Pew Research Centre has noticed through their surveys a significant and growing number of employers adopting more family-friendly policies to attend to the new demands of the market. However, women continue to be expected to attend to family needs even though that means putting their careers at risk. 

So, why do men feel less comfortable calling in sick to stay with their children when they are unwell? People shouldn’t be discriminated against at work when a child is ill. If awareness, trust and flexibility were given to both genders, men (who tend to earn more than women) would often feel less afraid or uncomfortable making adjustments to stay with their children. 

Post pandemic, there has been much research on the positive effect of working from home and increasing productivity. However, no one considers that this increase comes at the cost of the home and work blending into one. Employers are benefiting hugely from the increase in productivity but not giving it back or even recognising employees for it. 

So what’s the bottom line? Simply put: there is plenty yet to be done before we as a society can say we have created a fully inclusive workplace culture.

If you are a manager, a leader, or a company CEO, you might be asking yourself what steps you can take to start creating this culture.  It’s not straightforward, and it will take time before you see the real benefits from any measures implemented, but not doing anything about this now will only worsen the problem. To be blunt, many companies have already been working on these initiatives for years – the talent drain is real. Solutions must be practised from the top down to be genuine and relevant – and guarantee uptake.

  1. Leaders must give employees the option of when and where they work by default. It’s vital to develop team cultures that allow flexibility to working mums and working dads.
  2. Changes won’t be perfect immediately. If the changes I’m suggesting don’t seem feasible for your business, open, honest dialogue will ensure that solutions are iterative.
  3. Some companies have introduced incentives like unlimited holidays. This works well as long as employees are meeting all their duties to make sure the business needs are also met.
  4. Acknowledge and support people’s lives and priorities outside of work. Ask employees what is happening at home and encourage their efforts to do what matters to them. 
  5. Check that employees who do not have obvious family responsibilities (but do have friends and personal priorities) feel heard and respected. 
  6. Encourage employees to share when they feel overloaded. Ensuring that people think it is safe to point out unrealistic expectations and admit to overload will build trust; to raise their concerns, they will need to believe that they will not be penalised or treated differently. 

If you are a mother suffering from any of the above mentioned points, speak up and express your needs. Bending yourself to fit the workplace will only make this issue more significant. 

If you’re an employer, listen to the parents that work for you. Raising children is one of the most challenging tasks in life, and if they haven’t opened up about their struggles, you probably haven’t created a safe enough environment. 

Today you’re reading words from a mother with scars that could have been avoided if companies had implemented one or two of the suggestions above. If this problem doesn’t go away, tomorrow you might see your child give up on their dream career to raise a family because employers forced them to pick one or the other. 

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