“You shouldn’t have had kids if you can’t afford them!!” or “you shouldn’t have had kids if you want to work” is rhetoric that many mums struggling to balance work and family life have heard before. Unfortunately, not many people understand the various factors that work against these women, one being income. Today is Equal Pay Day and the perfect opportunity to discuss how working mothers can easily find themselves on the lower pay and lower prospect career journey aka the “mummy track”.
In the UK, Equal Pay Day is the date women’s earnings for the year “freeze” compared to men’s entire year of income. It is used to illustrate the difference in the pay gap for full-time employees. Last year this date was marked as the 14th of November, but this year it has crawled forward a bit to the 20th of November (1).
Having done some digging, I have come across a number of studies pointing to childrearing as being the biggest cause for this gap (2,3). One could be quick to argue that it’s because mothers work fewer hours, or that having a career break affects work experience and therefore salary. BUT an overwhelming amount of evidence showing employers offering mothers lower wages, fewer rewards, and less favourable reviews, leave me hard-pressed to believe that these excuses don’t give us the full picture (4,5,6).
A case in point is the pandemic, which has brought the whole world to its knees. Articles reporting on working mothers being disproportionally affected due to childcare demands (7,8), is revealing what we intuitively knew - inequality against women, in this case, job security. What’s more, it’s the sectors that appear to be more welcoming towards mothers that have been seriously hit e.g. hospitality and retail. And then throw in a group of leaders who were initially hesitant to provide free school meals to those who need it (9) and you have yourself a man-made trap.
Working mothers have two jobs, and raising future engineers, emergency workers, entertainers etc IS ALSO a contribution to society. Today there are many successful high profile celebrities (raised by mums) who give back yet sadly there is still a section of modern culture that insists on ignoring mothers whose contribution isn’t immediately assessable, as well as questioning their work competency.
Equal Pay Day has been marked as today, however, the research team over at Fawcett Society have mentioned taking this exact date with a grain of salt because the pandemic may have skewed the results, as this year only 75% of usual responses were submitted.
I hope I have helped touch upon how income is skewed against mothers as a result of unfavourable attitudes towards them. And of course, would like to point out that I am aware that not every mother falls prey to this lack of support. As mentioned, I’ve read through a number of articles, and although the sentiment I pick up was that mothers are thought to be too “distracted” or “tired” or “committed” or less “competent” enough to perform as well as their counterparts, one thing I couldn’t help but notice was that all the studies I came across focused on employees/employer situations. A quick Google search will show you that there are tons of self-employed mothers who are smashing it (10,11,12,13), so it would be interesting to see the statistics on businesses that are being run by mothers and measure how “distracted” or “less committed” these working mothers apparently are.