“I took a major step down, both financially and also in terms of skill/title/responsibility. There was no way for me to do that role justice and be the mum I wanted to be. Now I get paid crap and hardly use my brain and do boring, mind-numbing work. But I have the flexibility to do what I want, when I want, in terms of prioritising the kids.”
Flexibility. It’s the magic word for working mums. It’s more important than a big salary, or job satisfaction – maybe even more important than sleep.
New research carried out by Mamamia and compiled in the report “Hard-Working Women” has revealed what matters to working mothers. When they were asked to choose three benefits that would help them keep on top, 69 per cent chose flexible working hours, while 55 per cent of them nominated being able to work from home.
But a lot of these women aren’t getting what they want. Only 31 per cent of working women strongly agree that their workplace is very flexible, letting them leave for an appointment or a kids’ school concert. Only one in five strongly agree that their workplace supports them as a parent.
“When one of the kids is sick and I have to work from home, I kind of feel I’m being judged. I tend to do a lot more work just to prove I’m working, on top of looking after a sick kid, which is exhausting.”
“There is pressure to be 'visible' when that doesn't necessarily add value. Working more from home would give me more balance and help manage fatigue from being a working mum.”
“Flexible working arrangements and working from home are already available, according to the policy – but actually getting approval to access those things is like trying to draw blood from a stone. It's very frustrating!”
In terms of working hours, it’s still common practice for women to drop back from full-time to part-time work after having children. Someone needs to do all that extra cooking and cleaning, and to be available to ferry the kids around – and more often than not, that’s mum.
According to Mamamia’s research, 90 per cent of women without children in the workforce work more than 30 hours a week. However, only 60 per cent of those who have children work more than 30 hours a week.
The big problem is that these part-time mum jobs aren’t necessarily as fulfilling as the full-time ones.
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“To get a part-time job, I am in a job that needs an HSC, despite me having a Masters degree and more than a decade of experience in my chosen field. My full-time supervisor is a decade younger than me and a lot less experienced. I find myself saving her neck more times that I care to remember and having her take the glory for that. Disillusioned!”
So is it possible for mothers to find jobs that will allow them to be there for their children but also let them make use of their skills? Victoria Stuart and Stephanie Reuss think so. Their business, Beam, is focused on finding flexible, part-time jobs for experienced professionals who are also parents.
“I think we’re actually on the precipice of change,” Stuart tells Mamamia.
“There is an incredible pool of talent out there who are highly skilled and wanting these career-worthy part-time opportunities. There are quite a few businesses out there who understand that this pool of talent exists. There are also a lot of businesses who have their head in the sand about how incredible this pool of talent is that they’re missing out on.”
Reuss says there are opportunities with small businesses who are just starting to take off.
“In many cases, they don’t need someone in there 80 hours a week,” she explains. “It actually makes a huge amount of sense for their budget to say, ‘I need a marketing capability in my business but I actually only need them two days a week. I need finance, but I need three days a week.’”
Meanwhile, Aiying Law started up the business mumandworking in Australia to help parents find flexible work. She likes to challenge people’s idea of “flexible”.
“People say it almost like a little banner – ‘I need flexible work’ – but I think it’s more helpful to say, ‘Let’s sit down and see how we could make it work,’” she tells Mamamia.
“For example, shift work is completely inflexible in some ways, but it’s one of those options that works really well for parents. We challenge parents to think about different things – franchise options, new businesses.”
Law believes the situation for mums looking for flexible work is “way better” than it was five years ago.
“It doesn’t mean it’s going to be presented on a plate to you, it just means that you have more ways of making it work,” she adds.
If women end up leaving the workforce because they find it too hard to make their jobs fit in with family life, they’re taking a huge gamble. Stuart points out that with the divorce rate being so high, they’re not setting themselves up for the future.
“There’s that massive loss of financial independence,” she adds.
Of course, they’re not the only losers. The economy loses out too, especially when highly educated people give up their careers.
“About 30 per cent of the population has a degree,” Reuss points out. “Think about all of the investment from them, but also from the government, into those university degrees that is then wasted.”
So what’s it like when mums achieve the dream of finding flexible, part-time, fulfilling work? For starters, they do a damn fine job.
“They are so much more productive in their role, so much more engaged,” Reuss says. “It’s been proven in research that working mothers are more productive, more loyal and also generate higher customer satisfaction for businesses.”
On top of that, they’re happy – happy that their skills aren’t being wasted and happy that they don’t get glared at for leaving work in time to pick up their kids.
“It’s liberating. They’re just over the moon.”
Women and work: The stats.
- 65 per cent of working women without kids spend less than 10 hours on home duties each week. But among mothers, 87 per cent spend at least 11 hours on home duties a week, and one in five spend at least 31 hours.
- Working mums are 40 per cent more likely to do all or most of the housework than working non-mums. They are 28 per cent more likely to do all or most of the cooking.
- 98 per cent of working mothers say they do all, most or an equal share of the child-rearing. 88 per cent do all, most or an equal share of the kids’ pick-up/drop-off.
- 30 per cent of working women without kids have help with home duties. For working mums, that figure is 63 per cent.
- Of those working mums who have help, 68 per cent rely on their family, and 70 per cent use professional cleaners, babysitters, etc. Those with a household income above $200,000 are four times more likely to have a live-in nanny or au pair.
- 40 per cent of working mums don’t have flexible working hours. One in two don’t have the opportunity to work from home.
- More than one in four working mums must give lots of notice if they need to leave work during the day.
Source: “Hard-Working Women”, Mamamia and BROAD, July 2017