Why the Government needs to do more for working mothers

Read why the Government still has much to do to combat maternity discrimination and the loss of talented women in the workplace, and why self-employment works for so many mums.

In the past three years since we launched Talented Ladies Club, we’ve seen an increased focus on the discrimination faced by working mothers, and the need to find creative solutions that allow women to return to work after raising their family.

Indeed, as She’s Back discovered, we’re a high valuable resource that businesses can’t afford to lose. And yet, as the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) continue to reveal (and attempt to find solutions for) maternity discrimination is depressingly rife. (As we ourselves know all too well – read our story here!)

One solution to the expensive and depressing drain of talented mothers, is to make flexible (or ‘agile’) working not just widely available, but the norm for all – something Timewise’s Hire Me My Way campaign is beginning to address.

We’re also honoured to participate in the new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Women Work. Chaired by MPs Flick Drummond and Jess Phillips, and supported by IPSE (the largest association of independent professionals in the EU), the aim of the APPG is to provide a forum to constructively examine and debate the role that policymakers can play in delivering an improved gender balance within the economy.

In response to a recent APPG meeting, IPSE have written the following article for us, explaining why they believe self-employment is such a popular option for mothers, and how the Government still needs to do much more to help women.

The gender pay gap is still too wide

It won’t come as much of a surprise to learn that our career paths can vary wildly, depending on whether we happen to be a man or a woman.

According to recent research, the gender pay gap, for example, remains a huge issue. Women apparently earn an average of £5,732 a year less than their male counterparts, which amounts to a staggering £300,000 over the course of our working lives.

Meanwhile females make up only 24% of those in FTSE 100 boardrooms – clear evidence of the famed glass ceiling preventing women from reaching the top.

But the most important issue for many ambitious women, particularly working mums, is a distinct lack of flexibility in the workplace.

This was one of the most salient topics of a recent meeting of the Women and Work APPG, an informal, cross-party group of parliamentarians from both Houses.

Flexible working isn’t ‘working’

While more organisations may appear to be embracing the concept of flexible working, it can’t often be found in lower-paid, lower-skilled employment.

Although this kind of employment is usually part-time, that doesn’t mean it’s based around a set of core hours. And if it is, they’re rarely school-friendly hours, so women with childcare responsibilities can find themselves in a very difficult position.

The cost of childcare is also high – often prohibitively so. This lack of flexibility around childcare can, therefore, be an insurmountable barrier to the workplace for many women.

Maternal employment in the UK is lower

Dalia Ben-Galim noted at the APPG that maternal employment in the UK is 5-10% lower than elsewhere in the EU (according to her research with the IPPR).

To be fair, the Government did announce plans last year to double the amount of free childcare available – a welcome move – but will it be enough?

A solution: self-employment

Casting employment aside and going it alone as a freelancer is, for many mothers, the only option.

Self-employment makes it possible to balance work around family life, being available when necessary and working when the schedule allows.

Aside from the obvious benefits of being your own boss, and the financial rewards that come with it, the improved work-life balance also makes childcare easier to fit around work.

Charlotte Wibberley is a business consultant and 2015 IPSE Freelancer of the Year finalist. She says:

“Running my own business gives me the freedom and space to follow my career passions without compromising on being a mum to my two children. Had I stayed in the corporate world, I would have faced difficult situations when my kids were off sick, or had special events on.

On top of this the rigid hours and commuting time would mean less mummy time with my kids and wouldn’t have made me happy. As a freelancer, I can juggle my workload and clients around my personal life to ensure that I am clear and present in both areas.”

The Government needs to encourage self-employment

As was outlined by the APPG, the Government must take steps to maximise entry routes to work – specifically self-employment – and minimise exit opportunities.

That means making training and development opportunities as accessible as possible, something IPSE has long called for.

While employees enjoy tax deductions on all types of training, inexplicably the self-employed do not. And as the costs of training come from your own pocket as a freelancer, this tips the balance against you. Instead we need to minimise the risks of starting out alone, and see fair, equal treatment for both employees and the self-employed.

As Charlotte explains, “I think women in the UK are making a stand and aren’t settling for strict working hours or rigidity anymore – they are creating something for themselves that really does tick all the boxes.”

It’s time the Government started listening.

You can learn more about IPSE on their website