The ongoing challenges that come with balancing childcare with work have forced over 249,124 working mothers of children aged 4 or under to leave their employer due to a lack of childcare support, according to new research.
A new report from Totaljobs and the Fawcett Society, Paths to parenthood: Uplifting new mothers at work, demonstrates the disproportionate impact childcare responsibilities have on women and their careers.
The workforce is made up of more mothers than ever before, but post-childbirth inequalities are not only impacting women disproportionately, but also risk the overall productivity of the UK workforce.
One in five working mothers (19%) have considered leaving their job due to the challenges that come with balancing work with childcare duties. One in ten (11%) have handed in their notice because of this, rising to 13% of single mothers. Too many women are stuck in roles that are below their capabilities, missing out on opportunities to progress their careers, and essentially consigning them to the ‘mummy track’ forever.
Balancing work and childcare responsibilities also put further pressure on the UK’s already weakened productivity. Alongside the mothers exiting the workforce, 72% of working parents have had to take unpaid leave due to childcare responsibilities, with higher rates for women from non-white backgrounds (79%) and single mothers (73%). A meaningful commitment to closing the gender pay gap and supporting returning mothers must consider the different and specific experiences of women from these groups.
79% of women have faced barriers trying to advance their career while managing childcare. Over two-fifths (41%) have even turned down a promotion or career development opportunity due to concerns it wouldn’t fit in with their childcare arrangements – 4% more than working fathers.
The figures are even higher when looking at single mothers, with half (49%) turning down career progression opportunities.
This hampered development is also tied up with underlying attitudes to working mothers, with a third of employers wrongly assuming that pregnant women and mothers are less interested in career progression.
The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, (76%) remain just as ambitious after having a child, with 44% saying they are more ambitious. However, 68% of working mothers feel their capabilities and contributions are sometimes undervalued or overlooked in the workplace.
Alongside the barriers to career progression, the research highlights the ongoing financial pressure facing working parents. 85% of parents have faced financial challenges from balancing childcare responsibilities and work, with women disproportionately bearing the brunt of that burden.,
This burden is particularly felt by women, who are 1.4 times (35% vs 25%) more likely to feel strained by childcare costs than fathers, 1.5 times more likely to be stressed by household bills (34% vs 22%), and an additional 1.5 times more likely to struggle with saving for future expenses (34% vs 22%).
Looking much longer term, a quarter (25%) of women who have one child say they would like to have more but cannot afford to. With birth rates continuing to decline, it appears the ongoing pressures of balancing childcare costs with work could ultimately cause an even tighter labour market in the future.
The most popular form of support that parents (26% of fathers, 39% of mothers) want their workplace to offer is flexible work arrangements. This is echoed by businesses, with a vast majority (83%) of HR leaders noting improved productivity when the right support is implemented. 70% saw better employee retention and 69% believe having the right policies in place resulted in increased employee attraction.
Despite the research revealing women would benefit most from more flexible working, only a third of mothers (31%) have access to the flexible working arrangements that they need.
Working mothers are also less likely to have flexible working requests approved than their male counterparts. 43% of working fathers that have requested flexible working have this approved vs 39% of working mothers. What’s more, 69% of women did not receive flexible work arrangements during their transition back to work.
At the job search stage, a staggering 85% of mothers struggle to find jobs that can accommodate their childcare needs. This leaves 31% of mothers feeling trapped in their current positions – passing up better career prospects elsewhere.
Jane Lorigan, CEO of Totaljobs said: “There are more mothers in the workplace than ever before, and businesses need to create an environment where they can flourish. With critical labour shortages, and the pressures of childcare could ultimately have a longer-term impact on our ever-shrinking workforce.
“Not only do working parents need more support, but we need to ensure this support extends to the people who need it the most.”
“While businesses can only go so far without a government policy change, there are very important steps they can take to improve the situation.
“Tracking the progress of working mothers when they return from maternity leave will help highlight any shortcomings from the business side. Creating a clear policy framework will let everyone know where they stand. And clearly signposting the support available will ensure no working mother misses out on the support she is entitled to.”