I’ve recently spotted some thought provoking messaging out there about being a mother and the impact it can have on your career. Were I planning or hoping to have a baby in the near future, I think I’d be pretty dismayed to have read the following over the last few weeks.
• Women are being urged to test their fertility at the age of 30 –
• … but those who do become pregnant and take maternity leave face bullying; a situation blamed, as is so much at the moment, on the recession;
• The Fawcett Society’s most recent report (available as a free download) carries the title “Not Having It All” – and the more chilling sub-title “How motherhood reduces women’s pay and employment prospects” and tells us that, in a nutshell, pregnancy and motherhood makes women vulnerable to discrimination, pay disparities and an enhanced risk of unemployment.
As the article points out: “Based on what we know, why would successful women continue choosing to have children if the detriments to their career are so unavoidable and widespread?”
With my global hat on, I can’t help thinking that if the situation is this bad in the UK and the USA, two countries which do at least have some level of protective legislation in place, then what must it be like elsewhere? The Fawcett Society is calling for new policy responses to reduce the impact of motherhood on a woman’s earnings. Four priority areas emerge from their report and, whilst the recommendations are primarily aimed at governments, I also think that smart, brave organisations could make substantive interventions around at least two of these four points.
1. Provide mothers with the support they need to return to jobs at their previous skills levels;
2. Enforce and extend the law to protect pregnant women and women on maternity leave;
3. Create substantially more part-time work in higher paid occupations;
4. Tackle the low pay that exists in sectors primarily employing women.
This reads to me as a classic case of women being damned if they do (have children) and damned if they don’t (have children, or try to, until later in life, on the basis that they will then be more established in their careers). What a suite of choices: either you have children when your body is most biologically geared up to do so, say in your mid-twenties but you press “pause” on your career. And that option, of course, is predicated on you a) knowing that you want children at that point in your life and b) having a relationship all lined up where that’s what he wants, too. For mid-twenties women (and men) at the moment, they may be so overburdened with student debt that the thought of “settling down” may be either a far flung concept or an impossible dream. I suspect that for many, it’s a look forward into their future which seems quite appealing at some point but doesn’t fall into the “right now” mindset.
Or, option two, you forge ahead with your career, clear down the college debt, hopefully hook up with Mr Right in your early thirties and then hope to hell that you’ve got functioning ovaries, won’t get bullied when you announce your pregnancy news and that you still have something approaching a career to which you can return post-partum.
Not much of a choice, is it?