Sophie Pirathees knows what it’s like to face discrimination as a young mum. After graduating from university, she went for her first job interview. At one point during the interview she was asked what her biggest achievement. She said raising two children and successfully completing her degree. “The atmosphere changed completely,” she comments. She didn’t get the job and was told in the feedback that she would have got it if she didn’t have a young family. Her children were six months old and three at the time.
“The fact that I could do my work and have children showed I was organised, but employers didn’t seem to appreciate it at all. They think being a mum is just being at home when there is so much more involved. I was shocked at interviews that even when there were women on the panel the attitude was that mums wouldn’t do the job well as their minds would be on their children. But if they give mums the right opportunities and encouragement we can do both,” says Sophie, who is based in London.
After her early experiences, Sophie became less upfront. In her second job she didn’t tell her employer she had children until she was a few weeks into working for them. The person who employed her had a low opinion of young working mums, she says. He thought they were unreliable. When she told him she was a mum, he changed his opinion.
Sophie believes there is a particular problem for young working mums. “The media portray us as just having children to get benefits. There is a stigma and we are judged because we are young yet many are graduates like me. Moreover, if you employ mums who have had their children young they will not take career breaks. Their focus will be on progressing their careers,” says Sophie.
Her experiences have made her interested in campaigning for other young mums and for her own kids. “I want them to grow up in a society where these things will not be a problem,” she says. Three years ago when she was feeling a bit down about her job interview experiences she connected with other young mums via Twitter and eventually got involved in the Young Women’s Trust. Last year she ended up being invited to speak about her experiences at the House of Commons at an event organised by 4Children. She also attended the Queen’s garden party at Buckingham Palace because of her work for young women, which includes mental health issues. In addition, she has sent in questions and views to All Party Parliamentary Groups, for instance, on women and work.
All of this work has led to her being one of six shortlisted finalists in the Pitman’s Working Mum of the Year award, part of their Superachievers Awards, which will be announced on 29th April.
Sophie, who now works as a clinical trials coordinator testing new cancer drugs, is now studying part time for her master’s in an area related to her work. She has picked a research project she can do from home in her second year. She says her workplace is very flexible and her manager is supportive of her studying and campaigning work. “As long as I get the work done, it is fine,” she says.
Her children are now six and three and her husband looks after them as she is the main breadwinner. Sophie sometimes takes her children with her to events, particularly her daughter. She thinks it is a good exposure for her to real life issues and says it helps other young mums to see that she is in a similar position to them. “I think it is really important to have role models,” she says. “Young mums need to know they are not alone and that makes them feel more confident. It can be a very dark tunnel being a young mum, but there is light at the end.”
*To vote for the Working Mum of the Year, go to the Superachievers Awards site.