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HR News Update – Children bring mixed fortunes to workplace returning mums

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The majority of working mothers are dissatisfied with family friendly measures in their workplace, reveals a new survey by Mumsnet and executive search firm Ridgeway Partners.

Fewer than half (40 percent) of mothers earning under £100k feel UK employers currently do enough to help working mums, compared with nearly three quarters (71 percent) in the higher wage bracket.

The results, taken from a survey of 2,000 Mumsnet respondents working in predominantly managerial and senior executive positions across a variety of sectors, highlight the growing disparity between the experiences of mothers returning to work.

The survey also found that 55 percent of mothers earning under £100k have experienced a decline in wages since returning to the workplace, with nearly half (47 percent) receiving a substantial reduction of 40 percent or more. While some cuts can be attributed to reduced working hours, a quarter (26 percent) of those whose hours hadn’t changed reported a drop in salary.  Meanwhile, 52 percent of mothers earning £100k+ have increased their salaries since returning to paid employment.

The majority in both income groups have returned to paid work since having children and say they would have done so regardless of financial necessity. Flexible working hours emerged as the most popular option among both groups for ways in which employers could improve working life for parents, indicating that the Government’s recent extension to flexible working rights is welcomed. Tackling the issue of discrimination against working parents, a significantly higher proportion (56 percent) of lower earners advocated a ‘zero tolerance’ approach, compared with a third (33 percent) of high earners. This suggests lower earners may suffer from more frequent discrimination in the workplace or that their counterparts are more aware of the pressure on their employer, prompted by Lord Davies’s ‘Women on Boards’ review, which set a target of achieving 25 percent of women in board positions by 2015.

The survey’s other key findings include: Of respondents who haven’t returned to paid work since having children, a significantly higher proportion of those earning £70k+ (86 percent) said their boss/company was too inflexible or the job they had before having children was too demanding. Those earning £70k+ also made it clear that they’d ‘like to work but it doesn’t make sense for other non-financial reasons’. For almost two in five (38 percent) of respondents earning less than £70k, returning to work didn’t make financial sense due to childcare costs. More than half (51 percent) of the lower earners now work part-time, compared with only one in ten (10 percent) of respondents who earned £100k+ before having children. But higher earners are more likely to be self-employed post-children (24 percent versus 10 percent of lower earners). There was a clear difference between higher and lower income groups when considering where to search for jobs. Headhunters (57 percent) were more popular among high earning respondents, while other jobs websites (43 percent) were favoured among lower earners.

Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet, says: 

“The cost of childcare coupled with a lack of flexibility in the workplace are major barriers to parents trying to return to work and Mumsnet users feel employers could be doing more. Our Family Friendly programme proves that there are companies getting it right. By embracing ideas like flexible hours, job-shares or simply not scheduling meetings which clash with the school run, employers demonstrate to staff that they understand their needs and hence have much more likelihood of retaining talented staff.” Kate Walsh, of Ridgeway Partners, says: “Most mothers clearly wish to return to paid work after having children. But while progress continues to be made at boardroom level, employers are struggling to promote or retain female executives once they’ve had children. We see this challenge of supply as the next battleground for businesses in achieving equality in the workplace.”

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