Most working mothers have felt it but now its official. 3/4 of working mothers have been affected by pregnancy and maternity discrimination according to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. This discrimination can take the form of being overlooked for promotions, being required to work whilst on maternity leave or subtle bullying amongst others. Of course there are laws in place to protect all types of employees but we know life isn’t that simple. It’s up to you to babyproof your career and here’s how.
- Check out your company’s culture before you have a baby. How a company treats working mums is not something one thinks about before being pregnant but this is essential. Look around your company and assess their attitude to working mums. Are maternity benefits generous or stingy? Is flexible working supported? Are the other working mothers celebrated as role models or are they pariahs? Your company won’t change to fit around your new world so have a good, hard think about whether you can fit into theirs. If you want to have a family, and a career, you need to choose the right environment.
- It’s all about your boss. Employees are rarely bullied by a firm as a whole. Bad experiences come from personal relationships and the most important of these is with your direct manager. If they feel you do a good job and you support them, you are less likely to suffer from workplace discrimination as a working mum. If, however, you have a challenging relationship and / or they are not particularly enlightened, it is more likely that you will find life difficult. Consider this carefully before, and after, having a baby and plan your career accordingly. It is very difficult to push water uphill, and sometimes we need to move on in our careers, even if the law is on our side.
- Workplace professionalism is key to avoiding discrimination. In order to be seen as a valuable member of a team, you need to behave like one. This means being at work on time, and giving 100% whilst being paid to do so. It requires focus and a professional attitude. To be frank, many male executives are not interested in babies in the office or personal dramas. If you work for a firm that loves flexi-time and where staff bring their dogs to work, you can hope to achieve a successful balance between work and home. If you’re in a 14-hour day, financial services or law firm, you’ll need to keep work and home very segregated if you want to forge ahead with your career.
- Adapt your expectations. If your approach to work changes after you’ve had a family, whether that be your attitude or your hours, expect your career progress to change also. One of the major difficulties working mothers can face in adjusting to their new life is expecting certain things to continue as before. I believe in equal opportunities and equal pay pro-rata but I do think its hard to argue for like-for-like treatment if you are not able to commit as fully to work as another colleague. If you continue to work as before, you should expect your company to treat you the same and your career to progress. If you would like to work part-time, your rate of progress may have to change for a while.
- Plan for the future. The majority of working women start to think about babyproofing their careers when it’s too late. We need to plan ahead more, and be more ruthlessly strategic. Get your qualifications under your belt and a good leg up the career ladder before taking time out. Make yourself indispensable by developing unique skills and being the go-to person in your office for certain things. Build a reputation for being exactly the kind of person your company wants to keep for the long-term.