parent opinion

'I never had trouble getting job interviews. Then I discovered "The Mummy Gap".'

“I’d hire you in a heartbeat.” 

“I actually just hired a mum the other day! Mums know how to get it done!” 

“Things have progressed. Companies are way more open to the idea of working with mums these days.”

I’ve heard these comments over and over in the last few months as I’ve announced my plan to return to work. People want to be supportive. Attitudes are changing, everyone would say. 

Watch: Carrie Bickmore on returning to work after having her daughter, Evie. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

Almost five years ago I left my senior role at one of the largest media companies in the country.  

There was an incredible opportunity to move to the UK with my husband's work. The timing made sense - as much as it could for a woman in her thirties, at the top of her game, who also wanted children - in that I could use this time away as extended maternity leave. 

We’d be based in a small, picturesque town in the North of England, surrounded by farmland and fresh air. A beautiful place to raise a family. “Let’s do it!” I said, and tally-ho we were off! 

Two years turned to three, and three years turned to COVID, so by the time we made it back to Australia, it had been four years since I had worked and worn anything other than activewear.

I wasn’t too worried about getting back into the workforce. My experience was strong. My attitude was bright. I never questioned any of my abilities.  

In fact, I felt like I had discovered a newfound wisdom. A quiet comfort and confidence that wasn’t there before. 

I’ve looked in hindsight at situations in the past and the older, wiser version of me feels so much better equipped to deal with the challenges I faced. 

With my oldest son starting school, and the delightful consequence of childcare fees being halved, I started looking for work. 

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I scoured job ads for that mystical, magical word… "flexibility". The secret signal to mums that you are free from being judged and welcome to apply here.

I applied to a few different roles. Hopes high. After all, in the past I’d never experienced any trouble scoring interviews, getting hired, poached or promoted. Why would this be any different? 

Spoiler alert: “The Mummy Gap”. 

The name in itself makes me cringe. It’s reductive. 

This ‘gap’ was the reason so many of my well-meaning friends were sending me resources to help me get back into the workforce.

Articles titled ‘Project Displaced’ and ‘How to translate your parenting skills into business skills on your CV.’

Cringe, again. 

The very fact that we see mothers as ‘displaced’ or needing to translate parenting skills into business skills suggests we don’t see value in the work that women are doing in the first place.  

Listen to This Glorious Mess, Mamamia's podcast for parents. Post continues below.

The issue is not with the women, but how businesses are responding to them. 

Absolutely, we need to put our best foot forward to prove our value to an organisation, regardless of the type of experience we have, but unless there is visible change from an employers’ standpoint, no amount of polishing is going to make your time as a parent shine.

Yes, we have seen discussions change. The conversation is generally positive and people want to move forward in the right direction, which is a start. 

But simply hiring mums is not enough. It’s about creating an environment where all your employees, mums included, can thrive.

The set up of our workplaces is holding us back. The nature of work hasn’t changed enough to reflect the changing nature of households. Doing this requires enormous courage and leadership from an organisation. 

Given that 53 per cent of women in the workforce are mums, an overhaul of how we do business is absolutely called for. 

This is not a new sentiment, I know that. But nothing grinds my gears more than someone saying that they are doing something, when they are not. 

If you are proud of the way your organisation operates, hold yourself accountable to it and share it upfront. 

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Write it in the job ad. Don’t wait for us to ask in the interview if you are ok with a flexible working arrangement. Because chances are, after the number of rejections we’ve faced up until that point, we’re not going to want to risk losing the opportunity we have right there.

 And so we power on - working as though we don’t have children and raising children as though we don’t work. 

This is not sustainable. Change. Has. To. Be. Made. 

If you are not proud of the way your organisation is set up, again, hold yourself accountable and do something about it. 

Or if you’re not in a position to do something about it, say something to someone who is. 

Normalise the discussion and then follow through with actual results. 

I didn’t get a call back from every job that I applied for. But it came as no surprise that the companies I did hear from, were the ones that are leading change for women. Setting a bold, brave example for workplaces everywhere - one that I hope many will soon come to follow.

Michelle Fry is a writer, media strategist, marketer and mum. She’s been living in the UK for the last five years and is loving being back home in Sydney by the beach. You can follow her on Instagram.

Feature Image: Getty.

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