Towards equality at work and at home: a mum and dad speak out

gender pay, gender equality, gender balance released the results of its annual survey recently and statistics from a separate survey of dads. The annual survey, sponsored by McDonald’s, shows 59% of mums say their partner doesn’t work flexibly while nearly half of women say flexible working has affected their career progression, with 54% of part timers stating they miss out on career progression opportunities. The dads survey reveals overwhelming demand for flexible working among men with 73% saying they are considering seeking it, but 72% fearing their employer’s reaction if they do.

It seems that neither mums nor dads are happy: many mums feel sidelined at work, while many dads want to be more involved at home. We spoke to a mum and dad about their experiences.

Melanie Jones*  from London was at mid manager level when she had children. She now has a flexible support position after taking time out of the market to look after her children, aged five and seven.  When she returned she found she couldn’t get the position she used to have because she didn’t have “recent experience”.  She took the support position job, thinking she would get promoted quickly. She earns 35% less pro rata.

Asked if she has been able to progress her career since having children she says: “Definitely not!  I feel that so many times I’ve been disregarded from roles/promotions because I am a mum.  I make a point of never discussing my children with colleagues, even when they may be mums as well.  I don’t want to be pigeonholed which I think I am already.”

She feels she doesn’t use her skills and experience in her current role. She states: “I’m bored, under utilised and sick of people saying wow, you seem to know so much!  Yes, I had children not a lobotomy.”

She is also worried that her flexible working will be taken away and says if that was the case she would resign and look for a better paid job. She says: “There is no use sticking in a rubbish part-time role if the flexibility has been taken away.”

Asked what she thinks has to change to make things easier for working mums, she states:  “Not just paying lip service to “flexible working”.  Also a more coherent working parent, child service with schools etc.  More education regarding what working families need to deal with.  Why don’t you get  a neighbour to look after your children is not going to cut it.”

Sam Jones* is from the North West and works in the NHS Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. He would love to be able to work flexibly, but says the size of his team and his manager’s attitude to men taking time away from work for family mean that he has not asked.

He recently took Shared Parental Leave – his daughter is 10 months old – and was the first within his Trust to do so as a man. He says: “This caused havoc!  Nobody knew what to do, and there was talk from my manager of the leave being blocked.  Thankfully, the law doesn’t actually allow this, so I was able to take the first 10 weeks of my daughter’s life away from work to be with her.”

Since returning to work, Sam has had to take time off to look after her when his wife was ill.  He says: “The response was always “Can’t someone else do it?” when that would almost never be the response a mother would get.  It’s doubly frustrating for me as I work for the NHS and this is supposed to be the organisation that pushes for more involvement from both parents.”

He thinks attitudes towards men wanting to be an active part of parenting need to change.  “It’s simply not supported by society which is still very much stuck in the dark ages of expecting men to go out and earn the money while the woman stays at home to look after baby – it’s only when the baby gets older (once maternity leave finishes basically) that women are expected to leave their children,” he says.  “We seem to live in a society in Britain where every ounce of sweat and work is expected by our employers, and both men and women are expected to leave their children in order to go to work.  Men who want to play an active role are often prevented from doing so because we come up against negative attitudes outside the home.”

*Not their real names

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