The pandemic altered many working mums’ career plans, but it has also brought new opportunities for some.
Ann-Marie Murphy works as a secondary school teacher in Warwickshire, but after her maternity leave she switched to part-time hours to manage childcare and her job. Her daughter is now five years old, but Ann-Marie has not been able to return to work full time yet.
“In normal life, if we had not had Covid, I would have gone back to school full time when she started school, but actually she’s now going into year one and I’m still only working two days a week in school because I’m just not sure when she’s going to be in, when she’s going to be out or when I’m going to need to be homeschooling,” explains Ann-Marie.
Similarly to many other working mothers, Ann-Marie mental health was also affected by the pandemic, with her anxiety increasing. It was worrying both from her perspective as a parent, having to send her daughter to school when possible, and as a teacher as she felt more exposed to the virus. workingmums.co.uk latest survey of 1,300 working mums shows 30% of them mentioned worries about children’s wellbeing and security being one factor leading to worsening mental health during the pandemic.
“Sending my daughter into school was really worrying and then I work in a school of nearly 2,000 children, and a very few of them were willing to wear masks and social distancing didn’t exist. So all of that really added to a general sense of anxiety,” says Ann-Marie.
70% of the survey respondents said that the anxiety about lockdowns and Covid generally impacted their mental wellbeing and 61% said that homeschooling and childcare also had an impact.
Only 19% said their employer had helped them with their mental health. Ann-Marie is one of those who did not feel supported by her employer. She says all they did was “giving us a phone number for some counselling if we wanted it, but that was about it”.
In general, the pandemic made Ann-Marie reconsider her career. The survey shows 24% of working mothers are less likely to seek a promotion due to Covid.
Because of the pandemic, Ann-Marie could not look for a promotion as that would have required her to be in school even more than she is now, which would not be possible given the uncertainty of homeschooling.
But that is not the whole picture.
“The way schools and teachers have been treated through the pandemic has made me feel like we’re not really valued and it’s made me question not quite the importance of my job, because I think it’s an important job, but the fact that it has been viewed mostly as a way to just keep children occupied so that parents can work,” says Ann-Marie.
She adds that teaching also didn’t feel safe during the pandemic.
Even before Covid, Ann-Marie was running different side businesses, the most successful one being an online gifts and cards shop. But during the pandemic she decided to start a new one with her partner, as they were both working from home, and now she is focusing on digital safeguarding for schools, which includes looking at how images and personal data are used online and managing consent.
In that way the pandemic has opened a different door for Ann-Marie, which might have stayed closed under different circumstances.
“It just made me question the whole point of my job, I suppose, which is why I’m looking at building this company. So I can still do something that I think is worthwhile and I’m still helping, but where I’ve got a bit more control of my own safety and my timetable as that flexibility is more important now than ever.”