Becoming a Mother can be Good for Your Career

When I was pregnant, headlines such as Children Hurt Women’s Earnings, but Not Men’s (Even in Scandinavia) kept popping up in my feed. This was not very encouraging – but it also wasn’t surprising. Women face discrimination in many areas of life, and returning to work after having a baby is no exception.

Have you heard of the Motherhood Penalty?

The Motherhood Penalty refers to the disadvantages women with children face in the workplace – including being paid less than working fathers and women without children.

And it doesn’t stop there. Working mothers are less likely to get hired and promoted, and the recommended salaries are lower. They are also perceived as less competent and less committed to their work. Working fathers, on the other hand, seem to benefit from being a parent by being perceived as more committed. It also seems to be more acceptable for men with children to be late for work.

Having been a mother now for over a year, I really don’t see why working mothers should be discriminated in the workplace. To me, it is obvious that motherhood has made me better at what I do. I wish there was more awareness of how being a mother can help you in your career.

Regardless of whether you are working from home, working for a company, have your own business or work in academia, being a mother can bring value to your career.

1. You learn to work smarter.
As a working mother, you will master time management. Time is always short, and things need to get done.

2. You learn to adjust and solve problems quickly.
No matter how good you are at planning, you will encounter unexpected problems that need solving – fast. This skill is useful in all aspects of life.

3. Your patience grows.
As a mother, you know that good things take time. If you find something worthy of your time, you’ll be willing to wait for it.

4. You learn to delegate.
If you, like me, used to be the kind of person who took on too many tasks, motherhood teaches you not to do this – you simply don’t have the time.

5. Your priorities change.
Perhaps you start to reconsider your previous life and career choices, or maybe you decide to change career altogether. Having a child is indeed life-changing.

6. Being a mother could make you more ambitious.
Because of your lack of time, you might start to avoid certain tasks and realize that you only have time to do the things that take you forward.

I ask all working mothers to emphasize that being a mother can make you better at what you do for a living.

Don’t hide an employment gap due to having a baby in your CV. Instead, put it out there and explain how it has changed you and improved your performance.

Motherhood is challenging, for sure, but it can also be incredibly empowering. Giving birth and raising another human being gave me a new type of confidence. It made me feel like I could do anything.

As a new mother, you will get a crash course in life and this little human will train you in ways you can never expect. Motherhood made me stronger, more creative and ambitious. I thought I was tough before, but motherhood made me rock hard. If you decide to become a mother, don’t let anyone tell you it will hold you back in your career.

Creating Equal Workplaces: My Recruitment Experience

In the past few years, many companies have implemented a 50/50 recruitment policy – 50% women and 50% men. This is an amazing improvement, since it shows that companies want to become equal employers and help women excel in industries where they have been historically underrepresented.  Even so, I ask myself whether there are ways we could make this policy more effective. Is there a better way of promoting gender equality in recruitment?

When I started applying for internships last year, I was impressed by all that was being done to ensure equality. Companies in male-dominated industries such as tech and finance had several programmes in place to inspire women to apply for their jobs. Actually, there were often more opportunities for me than for my male counterparts at university.

During my applications, companies hailed diversity and emphasised how much better they would perform if their workforce was not so streamlined. Many firms published yearly reports on gender diversity and pay differences, and some even boasted a 50/50 policy that had finally been fulfilled during that recruitment year.

However, people started asking questions. If you recruit 50% men and 50% women – will you really be hiring the best people? Is diversity more important than meritocracy? And I see where they come from. This top-down approach doesn’t deal with the root of the problem – why do women and men apply to different jobs in the first place? How can a company help solve this problem?

I have attended several recruitment sessions, some of them tailored for women. All of them displayed charts and numbers of how equal they had become. The workplace is now full of women, they said. But I asked myself, why is it only men giving the presentations? If there are plenty of qualified women at this company, surely they should be the ones attending university events for female graduates?

I believe that gender roles live on because we keep enforcing them. If I never see my mom fixing the car or my dad cooking when I am young, I am more likely to enforce the same roles in my home when I grow up. Likewise, if I never see women represent a tech company, investment bank or a political party, I am far less likely to see myself doing so in the future.

I once attended a women’s recruitment event where all of the speakers were women. There were about 50 students attending, all female, and most of the day was spent discussing women in the workplace. At one point, one of the attendees raised her hand and asked about meritocracy. “It is amazing that you do these events,” she said, “but how do you ensure that you still hire the best, most qualified people?” The speaker replied that meritocracy was very important to them – a principle they would never abandon.

But when I looked around the room, I saw only women. And I knew that the company did not plan to host a ‘men’s recruitment event’ – imagine the questions they would be asked if they did! So how can they claim to be hiring the very best people, when clearly women had a much better chance of securing an interview?

Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of women out there who are equally qualified, and many times even more qualified, than their male competitors, and often women shy away from applying while men tend to exaggerate their competencies and achievements.

But women deserve to be offered jobs based on their merit, not just their gender. That’s why we need to know that we were actually the best candidate for the position we’re offered, and that we are not just there because of a diversity programme. Our male colleagues will never respect us if they don’t think we deserve to be there in the first place, we won’t feel confident, and the situation will become even worse. It is incredibly important to find a balance between diversity and meritocracy in recruitment processes.

There are several ways of achieving a more equal workplace. One of the solutions might be 50/50 recruitment policies – after all, more women are entering the tech and finance industries than ever before and we will hopefully soon see a more equal gender division across company hierarchies.

But until then, I believe that there are several other ways we can encourage women to apply for the jobs where they will thrive the most. One is showcasing female role models – mentors, presentations and workshops are very effective in reaching out to students and establishing professional connections between talented women. Another is adopting gender-blind recruitment processes. Many companies have started using video interviews without a human interviewer – algorithms help determine who the best candidates are without a gender-biased lens.

There is, of course, the problem of men and women demonstrating different personality traits that are deemed suitable for different kinds of jobs, but that’s something to be dealt with much earlier in life than in graduate interviews. By screening CVs and conducting initial interviews without knowing applicants’ gender, we might end up with completely different recruits than through the traditional process.

And lastly, us women need to know that we are able. We need to show how qualified we are and dare to brag a little. The workspace is competitive, and in order to succeed, we need to be that way too.

Sometimes we will be faced with a gender-biased recruiter, and when that happens, we just need to prove why they are wrong. Hopefully, we can create a more equal workplace for our daughters, where they don’t need to attend all-female events to stand the same chance as their brothers of securing their dream job. And at that point, we will know we have succeeded.

Mind the Gap: Explaining Unequal Pay

We’ve heard the statistic over and over. On average, women make 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. We’ve also heard the proposed solution over and over: institute policies that require equal pay. Yet, a lack of policy isn’t the only thing dragging down women’s wages.

An analysis of what’s behind that pesky wage problem reveals that even if women were to work in a field with fair pay – on paper – they’d be affected by the type of work they do, how many hours they can put in (skewed by women’s enduring role as caregivers), and how flexible their schedule is.

A consultant, for example, has to be available 9 – 5 to work with her clients. If she has to miss a few hours to pick up children from school, or help look after a sick relative, that time – however equally compensated – is still time lost.

A woman artist, however, might be free to construct her days as she wishes, and as long as she puts in the necessary hours, it doesn’t matter which hours those are. It’s a lifestyle that’s still exhausting, but not one that forces a logistical exclusion of family or finances. An equal wage policy would only help women who have sufficient freedom to take advantage of it.

Tech company Redfin did a little soul searching and found another contributing factor: companies with women in their leadership tend to have fairer pay. It’s an embodiment of what should be an obvious trend: women want to pay women more. Redfin found that in the average tech company, those with fewer women in leadership positions earned the average 77 cents for every 96 cents men earned.

“At companies with more women executives, women earned 98 cents for every dollar that men in similar roles earned. The two-cent pay gap might not sound like much, but for a man earning a $100,000 salary, a woman would earn $96,000 at a company with fewer women executives, compared to $98,000 at a company with more women at the top. This disparity adds up to tens of thousands of dollars over a woman’s career.”

As a result of their analysis, Redfin began publishing their pay rates, a sort of open accountability strategy that has proved effective. (When the BBC released their salaries publicly, for example, female employees went up in arms after it highlighted a disparity between their highest paid men and women).

It’s not all bad news. Pew Research Centre has found that despite its persistence, the gender gap has actually shrunk. And the cultural clamor surrounding the disparity puts immense pressure on even the largest companies to write the same numbers on their employees’ cheques, regardless of gender.

Sustaining Breastfeeding When Working

After the birth of my daughter, a combination of the strong bond I had developed with her and my choice and commitment to at least six months of exclusive breastfeeding meant that I was stressed about returning to work.

Thankfully, my fears were allayed by a strong support system that helped with the transition and supported my goals. Advancements such as improved legislation on parental leave and nursing care, allocation of nursing rooms, breastfeeding breaks and institutional mechanisms for redressing grievances are some of the progressive arrangements that have been adopted in the workplace to recognise breastfeeding as a woman’s right.

In 2004, the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) launched the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) to assess and monitor key breastfeeding policies and programmes. One inherent strength of the process is that it brings together actors working on various issues on one platform, and since then, IBFAN reports that the collaborative efforts have resulted in improved maternity protection measures in many countries.

One of the areas that has signified progress in many countries is legislation on maternity leave. While the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommends a minimum of 14 weeks’ maternity benefit for women, many countries have gone above and beyond this. In India, for example, the National Maternity Benefit Act 1961 was amended to increase maternity leave to 26 weeks from existing 12 weeks for employees in organized sector. The revised Act also provides Crèche facilities in workplaces with more than 50 employees and flexibility to work from home.

Despite marked progress, there remains a lot of ground to cover. The National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE) in Malaysia highlights the lack of awareness of women’s rights. NUBE launched the Maternity Leave campaign in 2010 to incorporate the right to 90-days paid maternity leave into a Collective Agreement with employers in the banking industry. Building on its success, NUBE now engages with a wide group of stakeholders to extend this provision to benefit women workers in the industry. By reiterating the importance of breastfeeding, they continue to educate young mothers about their rights at work particularly child care and lactation rights.

Similarly, the Centre for Research on Women and Gender (KANITA) at the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) works to address the issue of women exercising their rights to maternity protection. These include prenatal issues such as protection from employment dismissal while pregnant and postnatal matters such as breastfeeding and reasonable child care facilities while working. KANITA collaborated with Middlesex University to identify gaps and map research areas of maternity protection and implementation in Malaysia.

“The research is novel in many ways as it aims to open pathways to deeper studies that will continue to build the business case for institutionalizing and expanding the scope of comprehensive maternity protection at the workplace.” – KANITA

Finally, there is need to recognize, reduce and redistribute care work that is primarily done by women and girls. In no country in the world, regardless of the level of development, do men and women do an equal amount of care work. MenCare, a global fatherhood campaign with partners in over 40 countries on five continents, emphasize: 

“Full equality will not be reached at home or in the workforce until men and boys globally take on 50 percent of the unpaid care and domestic work.”

They highlight that care work being undervalued both socially and economically and thought of traditionally as ‘women’s work’ is problematic. As an advocacy strategy, MenCare launched the first ever State of the World’s Fathers report in 2015, providing a global view of the state of men’s contribution to parenting and caregiving around the world, which has inspired multiple translations, national reports and advocacy.

From the research and advocacy work required to legislate maternity protection, to education and information dissemination targeting attitude change and shift in social norms, to integrating women’s issues in the undertakings of trade unions – efforts to make workplaces more breastfeeding friendly and thus empower women to breastfeed and work can only be achieved through multi-level partnerships. 

World Breastfeeding Week takes place from 1 – 7 August 2017. Celebrating collaboration and sustainability, it will focus on the need to work together to sustain breastfeeding. World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has created an online platform with downloadable resources available in a range of languages to support individuals and organizations in their own campaigning and advocacy.