Spotlight On… Working Mothers #BreakTheBias

5 mins min read

By Christina Shiels

Working mothers have always historically experienced challenge and barriers with their working life and career progression. Throughout the pandemic, 29% of working mothers reduced their working hours. Forty two percent of those taking part in a study by Visier, considered leaving their profession altogether. However, even before the pandemic, women and working mothers faced challenges with career progression. The pandemic only accelerated issues. Yet, it also brought with it positive change for working mothers. The impact of the pandemic humanised the work environment and organisations had the opportunity to understand true work life balance.

Alex Wilkinson, Director of Global Mining at CSG Talent highlights the challenges that have been overcome throughout the pandemic.

“A common challenge within the mining industry and many other industries, is females who leave their careers due to life stage and personal reasons. One of the more positive outcomes of the pandemic and the increased presence of remote working has allowed more primary care givers greater flexibility to remain in the industry. Increased options such as job sharing and childcare vouchers play a big part.”

Many organisations are now able to encourage working mothers to stay in the workforce and provide effective support. Businesses now offer the flexibility essential for mothers (and parents) to achieve a healthy balance. Ultimately, enabling them to perform their best in the workplace and at home.

Responsibilities are, however, still disproportionate between males and females in heterosexual relationships. The percentage of US mothers who stated they had greater responsibilities concerning their child’s health indicates just how disproportionate this is:

Working mother stats - 61% of mothers miss work when child is ill - 25% share equal responsibility with a partner - 7% of partners/other parent have full responsibility - 7% have other arrangements in place

It doesn’t have to be a case that women have to choose family life over a career, or the reverse. It’s possible to have a successful career, while maintaining a healthy balance of family life, should that be the individual’s life choice. For some women, careers are put on hold during childbearing age and many women take a break from their career. In some cases, it's short term, whereas for others, it can be for several years. 

With CSG Talent working across many industry sectors, one thing that is clear to us is that there is a notable decline of females at a mid-senior level of their career. However, if we take one example from the Neuroscience industry, it doesn't always have to be that way.  Stephanie Krouse a Neurophysiologist and National Technologist Manager at Assure Neuromonitoring highlights;

‘In an industry dominated by males, it’s been great to see a significant increase of females at entry and academic level. Giving more opportunity for experienced female presence at a mid and senior level within the industry. One trend we are aware of is the plateau of females at a mid-stage in their career, many of which take a significant number of years out to raise children. But it is positive to see a return of these females’ years down the line who then return in mid and senior level roles. Re-starting their career at a later stage in their life is a common occurrence."

Is this something we should see across more sectors?

Many females return to alternative career paths following children. Taking on a different role, responsibilities and hours that fit in with the stage of their life they are at. Having the adequate support, resources and flexibility would allow more women to return to their career and continue to progress further in their profession.

Common challenges faced by working mothers

  • Equal pay opportunities and the gender pay gap
  • Reduced opportunities for career progression
  • Lack of flexibility and remote working options
  • Professional or personal burnout
  • Insufficient childcare / school holiday support as a primary caregiver
  • Identity crisis for working mothers where there is too much emphasis on being a working mother rather than a professional leader

Overcoming Challenge and Breaking the Bias

Meg Sherman; Senior Structural Engineer/Office Director at TranSystems highlights how communication is often key to overcoming some of these challenges and how small steps can contribute to breaking the bias for others:

“As a mother and a woman working in a male dominated field, I confront bias daily. It happens in subtle ways when the day-care calls Mom first when there is a problem. It happens in obvious ways when people on a construction job site won’t look to me for answers as the designer, but rather ask the men. I think one way of breaking the bias is communication. Communicating to the day-care if Dad is a better person to be called. Communicating to the people at a project site that I designed what they are building - my area of expertise. However, I may not know as much about how they are building it - their area of expertise. I find that my awareness of the biases that I encounter daily helps me manage how I respond to and communicate with others. My hope is that the impressions I leave with others will contribute to breaking the bias that we confront as women and mothers.”

The Gender Pay Gap

At a senior leadership level, across all industries, the gender pay gap remains an issue today. The average female salary is approximately 80% of the average male salary as of 2021. This is an issue widely being addressed and one all organisations should focus on to remove any inequalities with pay. Effective measures to overcome the gender pay gap include increasing female salaries to reflect their male counterparts, be transparent with internal pay structures and ensure regular and consistent performance reviews for all employees (males and females).

The average female salary is approximately 80% of the average males as of 2021.

Career Progression and Success

There still remains a stigma around working mothers and career progression. It’s often thought that you can either work and have a successful career or become a mother and miss out on opportunities for significant career progression. According to research by McKinsey, working mothers have higher levels of ambition at work than women overall. Research highlights 75% of mothers were keen to be promoted, compared to 71% of all women and 58% of mothers highlighted their desire to be a manager, compared to 54% of all women. To allow women to progress their career, they should feel supported by their employer. Having sufficient flexibility, work life balance and consistent performance and salary reviews will establish a solid structure for mothers to have options for their career growth.

Vicky Kerrigan, Principal Consultant in Life Sciences at CSG Talent shares her thoughts on progression and fulfilling career goals as a working mother:

“I, and many mothers, have proved that you don’t necessarily have to work a five-day week to be successful. Applying yourself and having a clear focus of what you need to do and in what time scales, being organised and planning ahead will allow you to be strict with your time and ensure the hours you put in are effective and produce results.”

Flexibility, Understanding and Remote Working

Organisations who value the contributions working mothers can make focus on some key areas. Having leadership role models and allies, providing flexibility, implementing appropriate benefits and promoting a working environment & culture that allows working mothers (and parents) the opportunity to thrive. According to research by McKinsey, working mothers are more likely to prefer remote working options than those without children.

Working mothers are more likely to prefer remote working options than those without children.

Many businesses, including CSG Talent are continually making changes and improvements to allow working mothers to work flexible hours or remotely.

At CSG Talent, we now offer an entirely flexible and hybrid model which allows not only working mothers to be productive and effectively contribute while still maintaining a healthy work life balance, but also working fathers and the entire workforce.

Avoiding burnout and identity crisis as a working mother

Working mothers can experience professional or personal burnout by not recognising the signs themselves, or not having a sufficient level of support from their employer. Having an organisational focus on healthy work life balance can play a crucial part in working mothers avoiding burnout.

There is often too much emphasis on females being ‘working mothers’ instead of being viewed as leaders or influential figures. It’s important to break the stigma and bias around a working mother’s role and understand they have their own identity and presence in the workplace, irrelevant of them being a mother.

Working for an employer that fully supports and embraces working mothers in the workplace

Increased awareness and an understanding of the needs of females and working mothers has increasingly come under the spotlight in recent years and actions are being taken. Whilst challenges still remain, it is encouraging there are signs that progress is being made in many areas. However, there’s still a long way to go for businesses to support and embrace working mothers and increase the presence and exposure of females at a senior leadership level. 

Businesses are constantly learning, growing, and evolving. We’re hopeful to see female headcount in leadership roles increase in the future and for the gender inequality gap to be bridged along with a focus on tackling the challenges faced by working mothers in their careers.

To explore our Spotlight Article on Males Championing Females and the crucial role male allies play in promoting a gender equal workplace, click here.

To hear more on CSG Talent goals and iniativies to support a diverse team and the progress we've made over the last 12 months, click here to read Spotlight on… CSG Talent Supporting Female Talent Across the Globe.