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by Louise Deverell-Smith

Does it really need to be all or nothing?

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as many as 54,000 mothers each year are forced out of their jobs because they’ve had a baby.  

It wasn’t long ago that men were expected to provide for their families while the woman gave up her career to stay at home.  But that’s not the case any longer.  Times have changed.  Both want to be as hands on as possible with their little ones.  Only now as parents jostle for position on the ever-competitive career ladder, it feels like the f-word is incredibly dirty when uttered in the meeting rooms, corridors and kitchens of businesses up and down the country.  

Parenting is a 50/50 deal so why can’t both work flexibly so careers stay on track and everyone gets as much time as possible with their – dare I say it – Families?  

I know a few households where this is done brilliantly – all are successful within their chosen fields and demonstrate that there is life beyond the school drop off and pick up.  Dad works from home for a few days and works around the children’s routine.  Mum does the same.  Time in childcare is minimised so costs stay low and everyone feels involved.  But these examples are rare.  All too rare.  

I am a woman who had a flourishing, well-paid career that I fought and worked hard for.  So it feels archaic when you come across those who expect you to give all that up in the blink of an eye because you’ve chosen to have a family. Why should it be down to only one of us to provide for our family?  And why automatically should it be the woman?  Why should either of our careers take a hit; technology has advanced, the way we work is changing, stereotypes are shifting…  so why can’t we get it into our heads that we don’t need to sit at a desk surrounded by other people sat at a desk for eight hours a day to prove we can work effectively?  There are other ways – and they might just be better for business.  

It baffles me why “part-time” work – anything other than 9-5.30, Monday-Friday – isn’t taken seriously.  Our research found that 34% of employees on flexible contracts admit they feel judged and under pressure to prove their ambition to both managers and colleagues as a direct result of their working arrangement.  A third (27%) feel held to ransom – unable to say no to tasks – despite often working fewer hours and being paid less than their full-time colleagues.  We need a step change. 

Inflexibility limits people’s options when they’ve had a child and that means that we’re more likely to find another job, go for a less skilled role just to make ends meet or leave the economy all together if push comes to shove.  It’s not because we’re being difficult.  It’s because life becomes even more of a juggling act when you have a small human who is dependent on you. And when you have to fund the mortgage, food shop, childcare costs, travel… it all adds up.  You’re not asking for the world.  A few hours here and there so you can ease the burden.  A couple of late mornings or early exits so you can take your child to nursery or do the school pick up and not have to add “wrap-around care” to your monthly outgoings. 

Unfortunately, men are less likely to request flexible working and this is something that needs to change.  I know my husband wants to be involved in our children’s lives as much as I am.  So it is so important that companies are designing flexible working policies that encourages take up by men as well as women. In an era where we are unbelievably still fighting for gender equality, why aren’t we working together to create as many choices – and opportunities – as possible for each other?  

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful legacy to pass down to our children. 



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