Children or career? Why one in five women delay having children because of work

Is the lack of flexible working stopping women from starting a family? Find out the shocking choice too many would-be-mothers need to make.

According to new study, half of all new mothers need flexible working hours after returning to work, compared to under two in five fathers. And a lack of support for working mothers means that a fifth of women are being forced to delay having children due to their careers. 

One issue facing women is the rate of maternity pay: a quarter (27%) of women believe it should be higher, compared to 15% of men wanting higher paternity pay. This comes as inflation hits a 30-year record of 6.2% in February, pushed upwards by energy and fuel costs.

Mothers are also struggling with balancing work and family life after giving birth. Almost a quarter (24%) believe paid maternity leave should last longer. Once they have returned to work, half of all mothers would like to see more flexible working hours – which would combat surging childcare costs.

The 2022 Parental Leave Study, conducted by Fertility Family, experts in supporting those trying to conceive, found that just 11% of mothers are happy with their employer’s parental leave policy and attitude to supporting new parents. 

The survey asked employees at 116 companies across the UK, to find out whether men and women felt parental leave was sufficient and whether this impacted family life, family planning and careers.

How does what men and women want differ?

The survey discovered that there are key differences between what men and women want – insights that can help employers can improve their policies and attitude towards new parents:

New mothers lack support

In addition to needing flexible working hours and longer maternity leave, women would also like their babies’ fathers to spend more time at home. Some 21% of women want to see longer paid paternity leave (currently two weeks), compared to 15% of men.

Almost half of both men (46%) and women (44%) agreed that the opportunity to work remotely would be a policy welcomed by new parents.

What employees want

To move forward, companies must embrace new, employee-centric working models. Flexible working hours (45%) and remote working (45%) are the most popular ‘wants’ from employees (both male and female) hoping for improved parental leave policies as they return to work. 

Companies must also make it financially viable for their employees to take parental leave. Nearly a quarter (22%) of all employees want their company to increase their rates of maternity/paternity pay. 

According to Gill McAteer, director of employment law at Citation, those who feel supported by their employers, and are clear about what their entitlements are, will feel much more comfortable making plans to start a family. Employees who are unsure of their workplace’s policy can often feel disengaged and stressed, which may lead to them putting off plans to have children as they feel like they are not ready.

Parental leave policies should be clear on employee entitlements and be available to everyone, with the aim of creating a supportive working environment. For employers looking to enhance their policies, they may consider adopting a family-friendly approach, with flexible or hybrid working, which would be well received by many of those who have families or are planning to do so.

We’re re-examining our careers and how we want to work

Lucinda Quigley, head of working parents at Talking Talent, continues by adding that the pandemic has led many people to re-examine their careers, futures and the way they want to work. Any companies not offering the right support and company culture could find their high-talent individuals eschew them in favour of more forward-thinking firms – which will be disastrous for long-term company success.

Now is the time for bold and honest conversations. Businesses must be ready to listen and create real change, especially given that the pandemic has transformed people’s thinking about the companies they work for, whilst also shifting family priorities.

Photo by Helena Lopes