Jean Taylor has seen her income drop by 60% after she left her job as a commodity buyer to find more flexible working. Now in a job with no prospect of progression, she wants employers to treat all workers equally, no matter what hours they work.
Working mums often face a non-linear career trajectory as they seek to balance caring responsibilities with work and given they are often still the main carer. One Essex mum of two sons, aged 16 and 12, told us about how she went from commodity buyer and systems analyst at a major car manufacturer to running a family engineering company to being a welfare office at a secondary school.
Jean Taylor [not her real name] left her job in the car manufacturing firm after her second son was born 12 years ago and ran her husband’s company for 11 years, doing everything from payroll and bookkeeping to purchasing and HR. However, in 2017, the family business was closed down as the industries it served had moved most of the work to China and Eastern Europe.
This meant Jean had to find a new flexible job. She thought it might be a good opportunity to change direction. After five months looking for a flexible job, a friend offered her some “work experience” in a secondary school where she was Vice Principal as she had been considering retraining as a teacher. Within a few weeks the Welfare Officer position became available.
She took a 20% drop in income when she moved to the family business and her current role is another 40% reduction. Although she used her core skills in the family business and uses some transferable skills in her current job, she says there are no prospects or opportunities to progress. She says: “The job really should be done by someone with counselling training, but the education sector pays so poorly that someone with appropriate qualifications would demand better pay.”
She does, however, have flexibility. She works four days a week from 8.30am to 3.30pm, but says she feels this is frowned upon because she needs to enforce it fairly strictly due to her family commitments – this includes regular swimming training for both sons who swim competitively and train every morning and evening between them. If she didn’t have the flexibility she has, however, she thinks she would have to leave the job and she thinks it would be very difficult to find another flexible job unless she wanted to be a cleaner or a care assistant.
She says: “There needs to be more flexibility and understanding that there is a whole bank of people (mums and dads) who are skilled and have experience, and most importantly want to work, but they need to be able to do alternative hours to 9-5 or to work remotely some of the day/week. I want to be a “somebody” who can be appreciated for their skills and ability and to progress not only for my own self-worth, but also as a role model to my sons.”
Part of the problem, she says, is unconscious bias against women which she feels needs to be addressed from the top of organisations. “The stereotype that the best employee is the one who is in the office from 8am to 7pm needs to change,” she states. “The diversity of the workplace needs to be not only seen as gender, race, disability etc., it needs to include those working part time, shared roles, flexible hours, remote working. Every employee should be seen as equal, not that the ones doing something different to “the norm” are letting the side down or are not really valuable to the business.”
She adds that the government and large organisations need to lead the way, reinforcing the message that working cultures and structures can be different and still thrive. She says: “If the “big names” power forward this message then it will eventually be acceptable, the same way equality and diversity have been developed within the workplace over recent years.”