Lack of Family-Friendly Policies Drives Working Mothers to Quit

Lack of Family-Friendly Policies Drives Working Mothers to Quit

Two recent surveys in the US and the UK highlight the importance of parental leave, flexibility, and other family-friendly employee policies when it comes to retaining working parents, especially mothers—and in neither country are employers doing a great job at responding to this need. Bright Horizons’ 2016 Modern Family Index finds that nearly half—49 percent—of new parents took a new job with a pay cut after having a child in order to work at a more family-friendly organization. Jenny Anderson at Quartz outlines the findings:

Expectant mothers do report optimism about returning to work after the baby comes: 96% say they are looking forward to going back to work. But the transition is not smooth. Once they returned, 43% of new parents reported thinking that their employer saw them as less committed now that they had children, and 39% reported thinking their employers thought they should get another job. There’s no evidence that employers actually felt either of those things. But employees must be feeling that way if they are willing to take less money to work at a place where they don’t have to feel guilty about being a parent—a condition (parenthood) that is neither rare, nor detrimental to productivity, according to recent research.

The Bright Horizons research confirmed what many other reports show: Working women want to keep working when they have kids. KPMG, YSC, and the 30% Club in Britain showed in a research report called Cracking the Code that women “become more ambitious about senior leadership as their career progresses,” and are no less ambitious than men.

Meanwhile, a UK survey has found that many working women there are compelled to leave their jobs after having a child because their employer won’t provide them with the flexibility they need to balance work and parenting responsibilities. Sophie-Marie Odum discusses the survey at the CIPD:

Nearly one in five (18 per cent) working mothers have been forced to leave their jobs because a flexible working request has been turned down, according to a new survey. More than a quarter (26 per cent) of women in work had flexible working requests rejected and 12 per cent felt their employer did not consider their request, found the Workingmums Annual Survey 2016.

More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of women who were on maternity leave and had a flexible-working request refused believed it was not justified. Nearly four-fifths (79 per cent) did not appeal the decision. Two-fifths (41 per cent) of women on maternity leave said a refusal to accommodate flexible working would mean they wouldn’t return to their job after the leave period ended.

Since 2014, all UK employees who have worked with an organisation for more than six months are legally entitled to request flexible working. But Workingmums said women needed to be better educated about their right to request flexible working options, and its founder, Gillian Nissim, urged policymakers to consider reinstating a ‘statutory right of appeal’ if a request is turned down.

The challenges these mothers face are a major contributor to the gender pay gap: Research has indicated that inflexible scheduling practices lead many mothers to reduce their working hours or take career breaks to care for their children, significantly reducing their lifetime earnings. In the UK, particularly, this “motherhood penalty” has been identified as perhaps the root cause of the pay gap.

Not incidentally, the CIPD’s Marianne Calnan highlights another new study that illustrates the urgency of doing more to close that gap:

The gender pay gap – which currently stands at 19.2 per cent – will be “with us for a lifetime” and cause significant damage to the UK’s productivity levels if government and employers fail to take action, a gender equality and women’s rights charity has warned. The Fawcett Society has also revealed new research that found 77 per cent of women, and 66 per cent of men, believe it’s the responsibility of businesses and employers to reduce the gender pay gap. More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of women, and 56 per cent of men, said solving the issue was the government’s responsibility.

Fawcett Society chief executive Sam Smethers said: “The gender pay gap is a productivity gap – it represents the wasted potential of women’s talents and skills. Research shows that reducing it would see over 800,000 more women in work and add £150bn to our economy by 2025, which shows the majority of women are going to be looking for employers that are taking action to address it.”