Working mums: over half of British mothers think their children prevent them from getting a better job

Over 30% of working mothers feel guilty when they have to miss work because of their children

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The Independent Online

A career and motherhood shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. But more than half of UK working mothers think their children are preventing them for getting a better job, according to a new study.

Some 56 per cent of British mothers think they would be further in their careers if they didn’t have children, according to a nationwide survey of 1,000 full-time working women conducted by

A further 33 per cent of working mothers feel guilty when they have to miss work because of their children, the study finds.

But that proportion might be much higher.

Mumsnet, the UK’s largest website for parents, found that 91 per cent of its members believe the motherhood penalty exists and 65 per cent say that having children had negatively impacted on their career.

Joeli Brearley, founder of the online project "Pregnant Then Screwed",  which aims to raise awareness of pregnancy discrimination in the UK, said many women are simply too intimidated to speak out thanks to restrictive gagging clauses, embarrassment or fear of being branded a troublemaker.

“Discrimination is a slow, insidious process that erodes confidence and makes you feel, somehow, that it's normal and acceptable practice,” she told the Independent.

An estimated 54,000 women are forced out of their jobs due to pregnancy every year, according to a research by The Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Patriarchal values still dictating that men are the “leaders” and women the “nurturers” might be the reason behind the depressing statistic, according to Brearley, who was fired when she told her client she was pregnant.

“In a work environment, maternity leave is normal, paternity leave longer than two weeks is not. Therefore women tend to bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities, even when there are two working parents in the family,” she said.

Some women report missing out on promotions because of maternity leave.

“They are more likely to seek part time or flexible work and as a result are often overlooked for promotion or added responsibilities. If the company is not willing to offer flexible working, then they need a valid business reason,“ Brearley said.

But companies and managers are not always the ones to blame

Tiffany White, a duty manager at a retail company and a mother of four, said her employer had been very supportive when she announced she was taking a maternity leave.

But the cost of childcare is holding her back from progressing in her job.

“There are certain shifts I can’t do because of my children. If I wanted to progress to deputy manager, I just can’t. The cost of childcare does not make it work,” she said.

The cost of childcare is almost uniquely high in the UK among Western nations – only Ireland charges comparable rates for two- and three-year-olds in full-time day care.

Just 45 per cent of councils report sufficient childcare available for parents who work full time, despite their obligations to make sure there are enough places under the Childcare Act 2006.

Brearley said shared parenting would be a step in the right direction.

“In Sweden, where it is a norm, there are significantly more female CEO and greater female contribution to the economy,” she said.

“We are calling for statutory paid paternity leave of 90 per cent of salary for six weeks for all fathers, to bring then in line with maternity pay. This should be taken only after the mother returns to work,” she added.