In November, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) released its report stating that the number of employed women who care for dependent children has hit 75.1%, a UK record. Since 2009, this number has risen steadily, and the number is up from 74.2% this time last year. Dads with dependent children have declined slightly to 92.6% but are still considerably more prevalent in the workplace.
This comes after Boris Johnson commented this week, stating that children of working mothers were “unloved and undisciplined” and might “mug you on the street corner”.
In his 2006 book Have I Got Views for You, the prime minister said mums were “socially gestapoed into the workplace” and it led to them raising “unloved and undisciplined children” more likely to commit crime.
Research from Harvard Business School stated that women whose mums worked outside the home are more likely to have jobs themselves, are more likely to hold supervisory responsibility at those jobs and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home full time.
“There are very few things, that we know of, that have such a clear effect on gender inequality as being raised by a working mother,” says Kathleen L. McGinn, the Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.
McGinn’s previous research found that female attorneys are more likely to rise through the ranks of a firm (and less likely to leave) when they have female partners as mentors and role models. McGinn, Castro, and Lingo wondered how non-traditional role models influenced gender inequality at home—both in terms of professional opportunities and household responsibilities.
“The link between home and the workplace is becoming more and more critical as we have two-wage-earning families,” McGinn says. “We tend to talk more about inequality in the workplace, and yet the inequality in the home is really stuck.”
Encouraging more women into the workplace has been a goal of governments since the 1970s, with Britain, France and the Nordic countries recognised for providing the most comprehensive family-friendly policies over the last 20 years.
The ONS said that, in addition to childcare subsidies, statutory maternity leave and pay for mothers, shared parental leave came into effect in 2015 giving couples the option of splitting 50 weeks of leave entitlement and 37 weeks of pay.
Employers were also credited with adopting flexible working arrangements, with about six in 10 parents saying that it was possible to vary their working day to look after children. However, women’s groups questioned how much they benefited from taking on extra responsibilities when the pay they received remained lower than men and they were much more likely to take part-time roles with limited prospects for promotion. The ONS said almost three in 10 mothers (28.5%) with a child aged 14 years and under said they had reduced their working hours to accommodate or limit the expense of childcare compared with just one in 20 fathers (4.8%).
The news that more mothers are in work than ever before is fantastic and demonstrates the incorporation of flexible working from many employers as 62% of parents said that it was possible to vary their working day to look after children, according to the ONS. Despite this being a UK record, there is still more that can be done. Only 2% of parents have taken up the option for shared parental leave and the option of flexible working is not advertised to all employees, so companies should do more to encourage this and help parents make work work for them.
There are still infrastructural issues which need to be addressed. With 45% of the nation struggling to connect to 4G, working away from the office is still a pipedream for many. Working flexibly requires greater input in wider areas including government infrastructure. British Columbia University found that with large technology companies such as Cisco, better virtual and hardware infrastructure can help ensure a consistent experience in the context of increasingly flexible working arrangements. Given that 90% of employees work remotely at least one day a week, and 32% of employees are completely mobile, the ability to provide a secure and reliable all kinds of infrastructure is crucial to the success of remote and flexible working. This will also ease the transition of women going back to work after maternity leave.
In 2017, a cross party group of MPs yesterday called on the Government and employers across the country to do more to help women enter and re-enter the workforce. The report, entitled “Women Returners” made a series of recommendations aimed at supporting women from the moment they take a career break, for example because of motherhood and caring responsibilities, to how best to support them to return to the workplace, for example through flexible working, self-employment and enterprise, and apprenticeships.
More needs to be done to ensure that people across the country are equipped to be able to work anywhere, truly reflecting the changing nature of the workplace. As a society, we are moving in the right direction, but employers and government need to come together to help more women return to work after parental leave.
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