‘Toxic sisterhood’ is worst enemy of mums in the workplace

The biggest obstacle many working mums face in their bid to return to work lies mainly with other women, according to a new report.  Here, Workingmums.co.uk looks at the bid by the so-called ‘enemy within’ to scupper mothers at work.

Who’s not on your side?

A male boss who doesn’t like women taking time off for maternity leave or important days at school is the stereotype usually perceived as the biggest obstacle to working mums in the workplace.  But a new survey has revealed a different, and perhaps more surprising, opponent to mothers at work – other women.  The Women and Work Survey 2010 by Grazia magazine discovered a massive 91% of working mothers say they ‘feel this simmering resentment’  from their female colleagues.  Nearly nine out of 10 (86%) claim ‘child-free workers resent the flexi-hours and time-off mothers can have’.
So what happened to female solidarity? Why is this ‘toxic sisterhood’ beginning to emerge? Has the more traditional battle ground of men versus women now been replaced by parents versus the child-free?
Jane Bruton, editor of Grazia, said: ”The toxic sisterhood is souring the workplace for women.  Many resent what they see as ‘special treatment’ of working mothers.  It’s a depressing picture because if we don’t want to exclude a whole generation of women from the workplace, we need to work with each other, not against each other.”
More than seven out of 10 working women (71%) who took part in the poll claim ‘other women are their harshest critics in the workplace’.

From the top
Six out of 10 female directors think working mothers have ‘enough rights’ and, worryingly, 74% of them think working mothers’ rights and maternity benefits are ‘putting employers off employing women’.  Half of all women believe this too.
However, reassuringly, rather than backtracking on progress made by women, their preferred solution is to give working dads ‘exactly the same rights as working mothers’. More than half of women (52%) think ‘working fathers should have exactly the same rights as working mothers ‘ to stop men being more attractive to employers than women’.

Why the opposition?
Why are women the harshest critics of each other? A sizeable minority – one third – of all women think working mothers ‘use their children as an excuse to get off work’.  A quarter think they rely too much on their colleagues ‘to cover their workload’.  Eight out of 10 child-free working women say they’d ‘like a guaranteed break from work to pursue their own interests for a while’.
Is there a case to answer about a working mum’s productivity?
”There’s no substantive research that shows a definitive relationship between fertility and productivity,” says Dr Alexandra Beauregard, lecturer in employment relations and organisational behaviour at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
”Mothers of school-aged children do tend to work fewer hours than their child-free counterparts, but their level of productivity while they are working is just as high.  Working mothes are only less productive than child-free working women when they can’t access the flexibility they need to reconcile the increased demands on their time.  The same is true for any worker, male or female, who has caregiving responsibilities for anyone – elderly parents or neighbours, disabled relatives, etc.  And, as with any caregiver, working mothers whose employers make an effort to accommodate their need for flexibility reciprocate with greater commitment and loyalty to the organisation, reducing the costs associated with turnover.
”If the idea is to equate maternity leave or days off to care for sick children with a ‘guaranteed break from work to pursue their own interests for a while’ that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Time off for ‘own interests’ is obviously at the employer’s discretion, and working mothers aren’t going to receive any special preference when it comes to granting leave requests to travel or pursue further education or the like.  There’s also this pervasive notion that working flexible hours means you’re working fewer hours than those on a standard schedule,which is incorrect.
”This sort of attitude is really disappointing.  Women face enough discrimination in the workplace without turning on one another and making it worse.  Working fathers are seen as responsible,  mature providers – they earn more over the course of their careers than child-free men.  Working mothers are seen as unreliable, uncommitted, less productive – they earn less over the course of their careers than child-free women.  This is prejudice, plain and simple.”

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