Throughout this week, in recognition of International Women’s Day on 8th March, we are publishing 5 posts based on this year’s theme #PressforProgress for gender parity. This second post is focused on pressing for progress for new parents.
If we strip back the reasons for gender dis-parity, it boils down to the fact that women have the biological equipment to reproduce by bearing children. In evolutionary terms, our predecessors highly valued the female body for its ability to repopulate packs and tribes to provide a competitive advantage over their enemies and ensure survival.
Fast track a couple of millennia and the value of motherhood has substantially deteriorated. Yet motherhood tends to be the time that defines and de-rails a lot of women’s careers. Whilst fatherhood tends to be a time when men’s careers lift-off.
- 17% of women don’t have children in the UK
- The average age in the UK of woman having first child is 30 and for a man is 33
- 1 in 8 couples experience fertility issues
- 44% working mums say they earn less than before they had children
Becoming a new parent can be an emotional and vulnerable time for the individuals involved. We tend to live away from the traditional extended family who historically have provided support and guidance through pregnancy, childbirth and welcoming a new infant into the world.
A lot of new mothers and fathers report that their experience is quite frightening and isolating. With so much advice, right and wrong judgements – it can be a confusing as well as joyful time.
So here are 5 ways in which new parents can press for progress by understanding how careers and parenting converge:
1. Maternity Discrimination
77% of UK working mums have encountered negative or discriminatory treatment at work according to 2016 study conducted on behave of EHRC. More recent research shows that a women’s age and family status are taken into account in recruitment decisions by over a third of private sector employers – a practice that was outlawed in 1977!
Some enlightened employers are taking impressive actions to support their pregnant employees and new parents – offering maternity coaching, family advocates, line manager training, parenting networks, etc whilst others are literally stuck in the dark ages.
Ensure that you are aware of your legal rights, your employer’s family-related policies and the support available to you. If in doubt check this EHRC Guide as a starting point.
Movements like EHRC’s Working Forward campaign are helping to support employers to stamp out maternity discrimination for good, but there is a way to go.
Feel empowered to make the right decisions for you and your family
2. Shared parenting
Pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding are the only gender-specific tasks of the mother in parenting. Children grow and develop with consistent, reliable care from their main caregivers. It’s important to make decisions where both parents (if possible) can get fully involved and benefit from being hands-on parents. Sharing can lead to better understanding, empathy and having a common purpose in a relationship. If one parent becomes the sole carer and the other the sole provider, it can lead to resentment and difference. Factoring in decision around career goals for each party is useful too.
Shared parental leave was introduced in the UK a couple of years ago, and whilst initial take-up has been low, the government are currently running a campaign to draw attention to the opportunity and benefits of sharing leave between both parents.
More can be done by employers and the government to ensure equality of provision and encourage greater use. Until men are more actively involved in parenting it is unlikely that we will see greater gender parity.
Sharing parenting responsibilities will be unique to your family situation, but big decisions like who becomes the main carer, for how long and whether both parents are able and want to do this need to be made.
How do you envisage sharing parenting responsibilities in your family?
3. Be prepared for your life to change
So many times I’ve heard expectant parents being told “you don’t know what’s coming”. And it’s true. Caring for a new baby can be overwhelming and a fully consuming time for all involved.
You’ll have new focus and new priorities. You’ll probably be shifting from a predictable, structured and organised life where you have a degree of control over events to an unpredictable, sleep-deprived roller-coaster.
Your identity will change – you become someone’s mother or father – with this new identity overshadowing your professional identity. The longer your absence from work, the more difficult it might be to imagine yourself in your professional role.
Reflect on what your life was like and what do you imagine it to be like in the future as a parent.
4. Beware of the dangers of perfectionism
Glossy adverts and Instagram images showing the joy of being a new parent – everything calm and organised, beautifully groomed, well-behaved baby – this is not reality, regardless of how much help and support you have. If you have a tendency towards perfectionism and are used to having control over what you do and how you do it, becoming a new parent may be a challenging time for you – and that’s ok. Don’t unduly pressurise yourself and find a way to parent that works for you and your family. Adjust to your new status in your own way and if you’re not coping, do seek help.
Post-natal depression is on the increase and we’re just starting to understand the emotional pressures and mental health issues of new fathers. Find support groups, seek professional help and give yourself time and kindness to adjust. You are not alone.
Get comfortable with disturbance, change and not being in total control
5. Create a long term career plan
Regardless of how long your parent-related leave, whether you have taken a very short maternity or paternity leave before returning to work or have taken a longer career break, say 5 or 10 years, it’s useful to create a long term career plan.
What’s important to you in your professional career? What are your hopes and ambitions for the future? Most people have a desire to contribute and be purposeful as well as having financial goals. How does your career vision sit with your parenting responsibilities?
The opinion of people taking a longer career break is starting to change and some employers and the government are getting behind the value of recruiting mature, experienced professionals back into the workplace. However it is still generally the case that an employer is more likely to hire a less qualified candidate than someone with a career gap on their c.v. As career breaks become more normalised, it will become more socially and professionally acceptable to take time out of careers for reasons that include child-raising as well as other caring responsibilities. During a career break it is useful to keep abreast of developments in your profession so that you stay up to date and relevant ready for your return.
Review your long term career plan, what do you want?
Becoming a new parent, whether for the first time, second time or more, is a time of significant change. Get support, focus on your changing priorities and parenting responsibilities whilst keeping an eye on your longer term career vision – finding a way to progress in your career on your own terms.
Career-Mums provides maternity coaching (also known as parenting transition coaching) – self-funded and employer-funded to support your transition from your role to maternity/shared parental/adoption leave and then back to work helping you to adjust to your new role and becoming a working parent.
For employers we also offer line manager training and support, develop your family-related policies and contribute to parent and carers support networks.
To achieve gender parity as a nation, it is important that there is parity between partners and within families. Shared parenting and supporting new parents are key factors in achieving parity.
What are you doing to #PressforProgress for new parents?
#CM5in5 for #IWD2018
This week we’re publishing 5 blog posts:
Monday: #PressforProgress for working parents
Tuesday: #PressforProgress for new parents
Wednesday: #PressforProgress for family-friendly employers
Thursday: #PressforProgress from leaders
Friday: #PressforProgress from the government
These can all be found on our website: www.career-mums.co.uk and social media channels.
Career-Mums Partnership helps parents to return to work after a career break and thrive as working parents as well as working with employers to improve gender diversity for the benefit of their business.