Tag Archives: working mothers

If affordable childcare is the answer for working mothers, what’s the question…?

30 Jan

How interesting it is to hear from the Department for Education that, if only childcare were more affordable and available, then more women would go back into the workplace. Its Childcare and Early Survey of Parents 2012-13 found that more than half of women (54%) currently staying at home with their kids would prefer to work. Just that they can’t afford to.

With the number of working mothers increasing from 60% in 2011 to 64% in 2012, and those working full time rising from 24% to 29%, more than half of mothers in work said having reliable childcare was “the most helpful arrangement which would help them to go out to work”.

The statistics show that nearly four in five families use some kind of childcare while during term times, whether that’s paid-for services like nurseries or childminders (64%) or grandparents, parents and friends (40%), or a mix of both (27%). And 46% of families with school-aged children used formal childcare in the holidays.

Some of the more interesting figures come from mothers already working:

  • 37% would prefer to stay at home and look after the kids if they could afford it.
  • 57% said they would like to work fewer hours and stay at home more with the kids if they could afford it.
  • 23% would like to work more if they could have affordable, convenient and reliable childcare.

From these statistics, working mothers would like to work less, and stay-at-home-mums would like to work more. All of which is dependent on flexible, independent childcare that doesn’t eat into most of the working mother’s income.

Great to have the stats, Department for Education. But what needs to change as a result of this survey is more affordability and reliability of childcare. So what’s the question…?

Working mothers are happier than stay-at-home mums – but earn less than childless women

17 Feb

Working mothers are happier than stay-at-home mums (pic credit: istockphoto.com)

Working mothers are happier than mums who stay at home, according to a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology. But going back to work after having children comes at a price, with research from the University of New Mexico revealing that mothers earn up to 14% less than their childless female colleagues.

The study Mothers’ Part-Time Employment: Associations With Mother and Family Well-Beingby Cheryl Buehler and Marion O’Brien from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, found that “mothers employed part time had fewer depressive symptoms during the infancy and pre-school years and better self-reported health at most time points than did non-employed mothers”. In other words, a healthy balance of work and family life makes mothers feel happier.

This excellent article from The Conversation, Work Keeps Mums Happy and Children Well-Adjusted, provides a balanced and insightful commentary on how mothers who work are more fulfilled – and counters the old-fashioned arguments that children of working mothers are somehow deprived. Drawing on John Bowlby’s attachment theory, it explains that children enjoy spending quality time with their parents, and feel happy and confident to explore the world and discover themselves as long as there is a ‘secure base’ to return to.

However, the downside of mothers going back to work is that Continue reading

Multitasking is stressful for working mothers

2 Dec

Working mothers multitask for 40% of their waking hours. (pic credit: istockphoto.com/CareyHope)

I do love it when a study  proves what we already know – that working women are brilliant multitaskers, and do much more multitasking than men – but new research shows just how stress working mothers are as a result of all this juggling.

Working mothers in the US multitask in the home for more than 40% of the time they’re awake: they do 48.3 hours compared to 38.9 hours for men, which the Offer-Schneider study says contributes to gender inequality because women are carrying the burden of housework, childcare, as well as bringing in an income.

The research shows that women engage in tasks that are more onerous: 52.7% of multitasking for working women involved housework, compared with 42.2% of fathers (though I think this number is rather high). And 35.5% of multitasking for women at home involved childcare, compared with 27.9% for fathers.

However, the significant point in this research is that multitasking at home and in public is a more negative experience for working mothers “because mothers’ activities are more susceptible to outside scrutiny”.

Study co-author Barbara Schneider, the John A. Hannah Chair and University Distinguished Professor in the College of Education and Department of Sociology at Michigan State University, said: “Mothers’ activities in  are highly visible to other people. Therefore, their ability to fulfill their role as good mothers can be easily judged and criticised when they multitask in these contexts, making it a more stressful and negative experience for them than for fathers, who face less normative pressures and are under less scrutiny when they perform and multitask at home and in public.”

She recommends that fathers “step up” and do a bigger share of housework and childcare. And she recommends that policymakers and employers should create more opportunities for fathers to be involved with their families, such as allowing time off for family/school events, and not bringing work home with them – so that there can be “more egalitarian norms” for parenting roles.

However, the conclusion is that trying to do it all – to be superwoman – just isn’t making working mothers happy.

What working mothers feel guilty about

26 Oct

I have a coaster in my home office with a quip on it that that pretty much sums up my life. It shows a fifties-styled woman saying: “We both can’t look this good. It’s either me or the house!”

It makes me chuckle every time I look at it, knowing that in the frantic moments of the morning getting ready for the school run, I can manage to leave the house without a hair out of place – yet, if I’m honest, I do leave a bit of a mess behind me. Do I feel guilty about it? Not really – only if someone else were to spy that mess before I’d had the chance to get the power spray out.

I have been known to say to stay-at-home mums with pristine homes who drop in for a visit: “I haven’t entered the good housekeeping awards, so there’s no need to judge me.” However, as a working mother who would much rather bounce on the trampoline in the back garden with my seven-year-old than check for cobwebs on the skirting board, I’m delighted to hear I’m not alone in feeling guilty about not having surface sheen and fluff-free floors.

A survey from the Working Mother Research Institute reveals that over half of working mothers (55%) feel guilty about the state of their house – and 42% worry that other people will judge them for not having pristine homes. However, what did interest me was that 44% of stay-at-home mothers also feel guilty about Continue reading

Flexibility is key for working mothers to forge career – and why the US is ahead of the UK

15 Sep

Forward-thinking companies are prioritising work-family balance for women (pic credit: Istockphoto)

Working mums value the ability to work flexibly much more highly than pay or time off, according to the latest survey from US magazine Working Mother.

Its 2011 Working Mother 100 Best Companies report reveals that it’s the organisations that empower mothers to create their own weekly schedule and career path – while still delivering on objectives – that have come highest in the rankings.

The Working Mother 100 Best Companies answer 650 questions, including data on the access and use of flexible work arrangements for commuting, childcare and eldercare reasons, and the advancement of women to all levels of management. The top 10 companies are Bank of America, Deloitte, Discovery Communications, Ernst & Young, General Mills, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Prudential Financial, TriHealth and WellStar.

In the US, some of the initiatives offered by leading companies are job sharing, compressed work weeks to allow for longer weekends, and flexible start and finish times. So far, so great. However, what I find most interesting are the initiatives to allow new mothers to phase their return to work on a temporary part-time basis, the “option for employees to speed or slow their advancement without penalty to help them better balance work and home responsibilities”.

This would take a lot of planning, but it feels a healthy and honest step towards retaining talented staff and acknowledging that sometimes those in the fast lane may need to slow down and have a pit stop – without penalising their progress.

Will government’s family-friendly plans win back women?

14 Sep

I applaud the intention, but I’m not sure about the proposals in practice: I find the leaked document from the UK coalition government on strategies to win back the waning female vote rather a defensive move. Why are women suddenly the focus? Because they need to “up their game” to counteract declining approval levels for the coalition among women, which have fallen to 25% (8% lower than for men).

A Polly Curtis exclusive in The Guardian reveals that the proposals include banning advertising to children, criminalising forced marriage, and revising the child benefit system to help parents during the early years. However, there are three areas that catch my attention:

Firstly, they propose setting up a website for women to compare their salaries with other people in their sector (all done confidentially). Could this help with equal pay? If it allowed men and women to compare with each other then maybe.

Secondly, they want to hold a summit for women in business at  Downing Street. Good idea, but why aren’t they doing it anyway, rather than being on the back foot about it?

Thirdly, the plan to reduce school summer holidays to help working parents seems as though they’ve totally missed the point. Yes, school holidays are long, and can certainly be boring for children, and take consummate juggling skills from working parents. But rather than burden schools with longer terms, surely the point here is to offer more affordable, accessible and available childcare? Now that is something worth voting for.

Women feel more fulfilled with a ‘career’ than a ‘job’

6 Sep

A woman’s attitude to her work influences how fulfilled and respected she feels about herself, according to a study of working mothers in the US. It doesn’t matter whether they’re high-flying executives or junior assistants; if they feel they have a meaningful career then it means more to them than mothers who work just for the money. And it gives them a sense of identity.

I came across the Working Mother Report: What moms think – Career vs Paycheck thanks to an article on Forbes by executive coach Lisa Quast, ‘Career’ versus ‘Job’ – surprising attitudes on how women feel about their work. The survey was carried out by Working Mother Media in conjunction with Ernst & Young, IBM and Procter & Gamble.

What comes across is that working mothers want more than just to bank their wages at the end of the month; they want to feel as though their work as a ‘higher purpose’; hence the satisfaction and fulfilment levels at home and at work of mothers who are career-oriented. They particularly appreciate being able to develop their skills, have support from management, and enjoy respect from peers, colleagues and bosses.

Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media, in her introduction to the report said: “The survey findings were nothing short of astonishing. We learned that mothers who view work as a career feel more satisfied, healthy, and fulfilled on almost every measure — on both the work and home front — than moms who say they work for primarily financial reasons… regardless of their salary level. We also learned that in some cases, male managers have a more favourable view of working mothers than the working mothers themselves.”

However, on the negative side, some working mothers feel some bias does exist against them in the workplace, and fear that some managers may question their work commitment when they need to balance the needs of family and work, and often find themselves struggling to get away from work.

Employers may need to weed out that bias and discover its causes. One of those reasons may be making flexibility a working-mother issue. The report said: “When flexibility is positioned as a working-mother issue, it can wreak havoc on employee attitudes. Colleagues may see working mothers as having special status, and feel they are left to pick up the slack.”

I’ve seen that happening in workplaces where people without children feel resentment towards mothers who need to leave early or come in late – so a culture of fairness and flexibility for all may help foster a more inclusive and amenable workplace culture.

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