I get asked a lot if my life changed when I had my triplets who are now 20 months old. Of course it changed, I now have five children not two and some things are just harder to do but in general things are pretty much the same; I still work the same amount of hours, do the same activities and go to the same places. I have always said that your life changes the most when you become a parent for the first time; the difference from not being a mum to being a mum is huge and of course it’s not just your lifestyle that’s affected but your emotions, your view on the world and your career.
When deciding to return to work as a new mother there are a number of challenges that you are met with, not least leaving your new baby. Some mums choose to work because they need to be the person they used to be as well as being a mum. I am definitely in that group; working keeps life in perspective and definitely makes me a much better mum. Some mums need to work financially (I’m in this group too) and so have no choice but to take up either their old position or look for a new one.
The biggest challenge to working parents is finding reliable childcare and the costs associated with this. The UK has the most expensive childcare in the world so understandably some parents find that the cost of childcare is more or less the same as their own salary. Flexible working is definitely another challenge. Mojomums conducted a survey of their members which found that only 10% of mums’ requests for flexible working were met – of course thisis way too low.
Nick Clegg’s announcement this week that the coalition intend to introduce flexible working for ALL employees, or at least the right to ask, as well as shared maternity leave of 52 weeks is a welcome one, however you have to ask yourself: how much difference will this actually make?
I think we first need to look at the reasons behind the need for flexible working, and of course a major one is to be able to see our children more and to work around their school hours. But hand in hand with this and posing a much bigger issue for parents is the cost of childcare. If a mum needs to work financially but has to pay exorbitant fees for childcare, then returning to work is paradoxically not viable. Lots of mums with family nearby are able to utilise a grandparent a day or two a week which brings the overall cost of childcare down, but not everyone is that lucky.
When you have children under school age, childcare can be a full time arrangement and with the Childcare Voucher system still being an optional scheme for employers, even that help isn’t always an option.
Childcare for school age children brings its own set of problems, a lot of the mums who work for me do so in school hours. Many of them would love to work longer hours and certainly the extra money would be helpful but with breakfast and after school clubs few and far between this often just isn’t possible.
So what can the government do? To start with they can use their plan for flexible working and shared maternity leave as a starting point and develop it by working with employers to ensure that there is an understanding of how to implement this into the real world of business. However the issue isn’t only at the point of asking for flexible working, there needs to be more flexible, job-share and part time roles suitable for mums to return to.
Open minded businesses which embrace flexible working, generally find that it is of great benefit to them. Flexible workers take less sick days and can be more productive than full time workers in their part time hours.
When a worker returns and ask to move to a flexible role, the business should grasp theopportunity to retain experienced staff, saving money on recruiting less experienced staff and, where possible, releasing costs which can be deployed in other areas of the business. At the Zebra Group we have used the opportunity to employ graduates and apprentices with the saving we make on fewer full time roles. Job sharing too can be critical for businesses as I discovered in the early days of setting up my first company. Holiday allowance and sickness was leaving us exposed in the vital area of customer services. We now run job share schemes throughout the business with great success.
The government claim to recognise that women play an important role in business today, that we are needed and are an important factor in moving our country forward and it’s now time to put its words into actions. We talk about needing a quota of women in our boardrooms, however the problem lies in the pipeline and without a really good pipeline of women returning to work after having children back into senior flexible roles, then we have no chance of ever meeting that quota.
I think if the government really want to make a difference then they should be looking at implementing a quota system for flexible and part time roles. The government really need to get with the 21st century and tackle the scandal of decades of experience and talent sitting at home waiting for school pick-up time.
If I had five minutes with our government, I would tell them:
- To introduce and fund more school based childcare routes such as breakfast and after school clubs allowing all mums to go back to work if required, especially low earners desperate to get off benefits.
- To make the Childcare Voucher scheme mandatory and ensure it works for both employees and employers
- Cap nursery fees, and instead of paying benefits to out of work parents, subsidise childcare for low income families.
- Encourage businesses to bring childcare in house through funding and tax relief to employers doing so.
And that’s just for starters…
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