The Motherhood Penalty – Kick-starting your Post Baby Career

return to work after a career break 2‘The Motherhood Penalty’ – a phrase coined by sociologists studying workplace trends – is a reality for most working women who become mothers.

It refers to the fact that most mothers face discrimination, lower pay, a drop in perceived competence and demotion in the workplace simply for carrying on the human race.

There’s even a campaign movement called simply: ‘Pregnant then Screwed’ which aims to document and highlight discrimination towards pregnant women and mothers in the workplace.

The Fawcett Society found that for each year a woman is absent from the workforce her future wages will drop by 4%.

Also, by the time a woman returns to work, her wages will be 21% lower than those of her male partner. – now  we know why women earn less than men.

When it comes to how mothers view their future careers, the facts speak for themselves: Mumsnet, the UK’s largest website for parents, found that 91% of its members believe the motherhood penalty exists and 65% say that having children has negatively impacted on their career.

Some 56% of British mothers think they would be further in their careers if they didn’t have children.

In the face of the evidence, taking time out of a career to have and raise children is now a decision not to be taken lightly.

Many women do return to work after maternity leave of 52 weeks. But many don’t – they decide to give up work altogether.

Why is this? There are lots of reasons why women do not return to work following their statutory maternity leave – having a family is never simple – but the main two that come up are:

1. High Childcare Costs:

The UK has the second highest childcare costs in Europe (after Ireland).

For many women in the middle to low earning bracket, going back to work simply makes no financial sense because they would effectively be working to pay for childcare. Check out our article on how to save and find help with childcare costs for more information.

2. A Desire to Look After One’s Children:

Of course having children and wanting to be with them is a driving factor.

In the UK we live in a society which stills looks suspiciously at the concept of ‘shared parenting’. Cultural values dictate that men are the “leaders” and women the “nurturers.’’

Therefore, being a full-time mother is considered ‘normal’ but paternity leave longer than two weeks or being a full-time father is viewed at best as unconventional, and at worst as an aberration.

For whatever reason, it is clear that become a stay at home mum to look after children full-time can have long term damage on a woman’s career.

For women who leave the workforce altogether to have and look after children, the average ‘break’ is between 4-7 years out of the workplace (many stay at home mothers return to work when their children start school).

In employment and career progression terms, 7 years is a lifetime.

Can women who have taken that amount of time out of the rat race expect to return at a similar level as before?

The answer in most cases is no.

Motherhood has an effect on women’s training opportunities (no on-the-job training), networking abilities (isolated at home) and financial situations (relying on the earnings of a partner or state benefits).

For those considering a return to work after a long parenting ‘break’ (it’s so not a break), you may feel worried about the gaps in your CV or you may have lost confidence in your abilities.

Help is at hand – here we have put together some practical tips for mothers who have been out of the workforce for more than four years and are currently job-seeking.

5 Tips to Help You Get A Job And Return To Work After A Motherhood Break

how to return to work after a career break 21. What about the CV ‘Gap’?

The CV gap is one of the biggest worries for job-seeking mothers.

How to explain it? Should you be honest and fill it with the skills you have gained as a full-time parent?

It’s a tricky one but it’s best to be honest. Perhaps don’t shout it out at the top under your name.

But you can write something like “2011-2016 Career break (Maternity)”. Many employers are parents themselves and so will have some understanding. If you get an interview there is no point in glossing over your career break, you just need to show all of your qualities in a positive light.

Alternatively, you can create a ‘skills-based’ CV instead of focusing on the chronology of your career.

This type of CV highlights your skills and education in a positive way without too much emphasis on dates.

Remember if you have done any voluntary work, training or freelancing while you were at home, include these prominently.

2. Be Confident

Being able to sell yourself is one of the key tools to getting a job.

However, after being out of the workplace for a long time, your confidence may have plummeted.

Give a boost to your confidence by digging out all your old appraisals and qualifications, connect with old colleagues, research developments in your industry and spend some time to get back into the ‘working you’ rather than the ‘mothering you.’

And remember: approach every job with your head held high, being at home and looking after children is nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t underestimate your child-caring years.

3. Networking is Key

Don’t just fire off a load of generic CVs to jobs you have found online.

Do some groundwork, start networking with old colleagues and friends, set up a LinkedIn profile, join some groups and highlight your skills and experience. You never know what may come out of a chance conversation.

4. Consider Re-Training

Perhaps you can’t stomach going back into your old career in a lower position or have lost your appetite for your previous employment.

Could it be time for a change? Yes you would be starting out at the bottom and may have to shell out for re-training.

However using a motherhood break to shake up your life and start on something new that you are passionate about may be the best decision you ever make.

5. Don’t Rule Out Full-Time

One of the mistakes that mothers make is to only apply for part-time work, which is a very small pond to fish in.

Many mothers do this because they worry about fitting a job around children.

Remember, if you bag yourself an interview and get the job, you can negotiate flexible hours, even if the job is full-time. It’s all about taking the risk.

Over to you!

What is your experience of returning to work after a motherhood break? Do you feel worried about job-hunting after time out of the workplace? Can you share any of your job-seeking tips? We would love to hear from you!

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3 Comments

  1. Excellent tips for mothers looking to return to the workplace. Things have come a long way but there’s still work to be done.

  2. I am a firm believer in that you can do whatever you put your mind to. I went to “night school” to retrain after I had had my daughter and found that my new skills made me more employable than I was before.

    This is great advice for new mums out there, you just have to believe in yourself.

  3. Kerry Norris says:

    This is me to act. I had a very good job but I’ve had to give it up as its not flexible around childcare and we can’t afford to pay for 2 children in childcare. X

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