Women sacrificing careers for families

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The Independent Online

One in three working women has turned down the chance of promotion or further education because of family pressures, a new survey has found.

One in three working women has turned down the chance of promotion or further education because of family pressures, a new survey has found.

The report, to be published by market researchers tomorrow, has coined a new term to describe the main factor holding women back from taking top jobs: "familyism".

Despite evidence that sexism in Britain's companies frequently holds back thousands of highly experienced female executives and managers, the survey suggests many women feel obliged to put their children and home lives first.

The majority of the 1,000 women questioned admitted the dual pressures of family and work life were intense. Many of them said they were desperate for a 26-hour day, in order to fulfil all their commitments.

Nearly 60 per cent of the women, who were aged 30-55, said their relationships with their partner or children would be improved if they had two extra hours a day. More than half also said their personal happiness would be increased if another two hours of free time could be added.

Dr Christina Hughes, co-chairwoman of the Gender and Education Association and a senior lecturer at Warwick University, said "familyism" was becoming a serious barrier for many women working outside the home.

"Women are reaching middle management positions, then finding they get stuck at that point," said Dr Hughes. "They deliberately don't go for promotion because they look at what it means in terms of work and life, and think: 'That's not for me. I couldn't do the job properly because I have all these responsibilities.' They're torn between being proper employees and proper mothers."

The findings also raised serious questions about the adequacy of family-friendly policies being introduced by many firms, said Bola Olabisi, founder and chief executive of the Professional Family Women's Network, who is herself a mother of four.

"Many employers, especially bigger companies, have some pretty impressive poli-cies on paper," she said. "But when it comes to line managers understanding these new policies and putting them into practice, it's another story."

Ms Olabisi added: "Businesses need to understand the vast range of untapped skills they're missing out on simply because they're failing to recognise the valuable contribution women with families bring to the workplace."

Stephen Burke, director of the Daycare Trust, the national childcare charity, said that a large part of the problem was the lack of affordable support for working parents. "What we need are more childcare facilities available at a reasonable price," said Mr Burke. "British parents pay the highest childcare bills in Europe, and there are currently only places for one child in seven under the age of eight. Without more investment from government, women will continue to struggle balancing work and family life."

The survey, conducted by the Yorkshire-based company Twenty Twenty Research, will be published in the August issue of Good Housekeeping magazine.

Lindsay Nicholson, editor-in-chief of the magazine, said the findings were symptomatic of a working environment where less than a third of all managers are women.

"Workplace practices are stuck in a timewarp," she said. "Employers are behaving as if it were still the Fifties, when the majority of employees were male and their family responsibilities were taken care of by non-working wives. [They] aren't doing themselves any favours because ignoring reality is a very poor way to run a business."

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