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women_at_workThe Institute For Fiscal Studies published a report this week stating that the gender pay gap between men and mothers is at an all time high. They have reported that the gender pay gap begins to expand dramatically once a woman’s first child is born, whilst men’s wages continue growing at the same rate as before having children. Mothers are returning to work because the cost of living is expensive and women are told they can be mothers as well as following a career. It is vital to look at what could be the causes and why this is happening.

The IFS study explains that women will often return to work in a part time capacity, but even comparing the hourly rate with men, there can be up to as much a 33% difference in the wage mothers take home. This gap seems to be increasing in a time when more women are returning to work.

Returning to work after the birth of your child can have a big impact on your working life. Your life values, available time and energy levels alter dramatically with the arrival of a child. Mothers will possibly be changing their career responsibilities, as the juggling of children and running of the household often falls to the woman. Many highly skilled and experienced women have to make the choice to change their roles as the demands on their time do not fit in with the demands of family life. Working closer to home also means that it is easier to attend to the child’s needs. But to waste the skills and expertise of women because they have had a child needs to be left back in the 1950’s, when women were made to believe they weren’t to have this choice within their lives. Motherhood meant any career path was to be left behind with the birth of their first child.

In the UK, childcare costs are very high. In some areas of London, the daily rate for one child can be as high a £100 per day. This can mean that a family can be better off financially for the mother to stop work completely instead of relying on paid help. This means that there is a break in her career. Women also want to spend time with their children, preferring the idea of reducing their hours.The result is that women’s wages plateau, promotions are offered to full time workers and skills are wasted. Confidence can reduce dramatically as independence reduces and the benefits of a working life can disappear. Men are able to continue on their career paths, but might find they are missing out on family life due to long hours. The strain of being the main breadwinner can create a lot of stress and worry and resentment can develop within the relationship.

Taking this into account, it is understandable that there could be an income gap whilst the children are young, but this continues to widen and then plateaus 12 years later. This gap is still wide once the child has reached 20 years old.

So where does the change need to be concentrated to make the greatest improvement? Childcare, parenting, sharing and attitudes to a shorter week are definitely matters that can be addressed politically.Dad_and_child_bonding

So is addressing childcare costs the answer, and enabling men to take more time off on paternity leave, so women can get back to work more easily? In Sweden, this is the approach the government has adopted. Once a child is born, the mother and father have the option to equally share the time spent with their child, earning up to 80% of their income. With 390 days made available, this can be used up until the child’s 8th birthday. It has become the norm and expectation that men contribute equally to raising the children and household tasks. Childcare is subsidised by the government by a large amount. The average monthly cost of full time childcare is £140. This cost reduces with subsequent children.

So how have these changes improved the Swedish gender pay gap? A 2011 OECD report  stated “In 2011, Swedish women earned 14% less than men–a pay gap just below the OECD average (15%) and higher than in many countries with comparable female employment rates.The pay gap is even larger (21%) among parents.” So even with these amazing childcare options and sharing parental responsibilities the gap is still large.

As both women and men are starting to recognise the importance of spending more time at home, with a better work/life balance, our perceptions of what a working week looks like needs to alter. Sweden is now changing the working day to 6 hours, as it is recognised this reduction in hours increases happiness and productivity. The Netherlands is implementing a 4 day week to increase wellbeing of its citizens. Promotions, which traditionally have been given to full time workers, are now being offered to people working 4 days or less. It is found that productivity does not reduce, because people are working at the optimum time for concentration and efficiency.

So if the perception of the part time worker altered and men took a greater chunk of the household responsibilities, would the pay gap narrow? Of course, there would be changes, but not necessarily a huge amount. This is because a major contributor to the gender pay gap is how women perceive and assert themselves within the workplace.  A big part of the problem is that women don’t ask for more money or go out of their way to show what they are achieving on a daily basis as much as men often do. This is true of both employed and self employed women. Women are much more likely to have lower self esteem than men, which can have a huge impact on them feeling comfortable to ask for what they want. Carrying the limiting belief that they are not worthy or good enough for more, or that deep down they don’t believe they should ask for more, stops them asking for what they want. This can be experienced by the woman as possibly having gratitude that they have work at all and don’t want to make a fuss, or they feel fearful to raise an objection or even put up an argument as to why they do deserve to be promoted or have a substantial pay rise. By doing so they would have to explain- why they are worthy of more money and respect.

If women, as a collective, started vocalising their expectations of higher wages and knowing they could do a good job in a higher position, even if they need to work less hours. It seems old fashioned and out of date that there is only a choice between motherhood or a career path when flexible working and job shares can work well. As is being implemented and proven in various countries,  working less hours results in improved productivity and happiness. When this is implemented with good quality, subsidised childcare, an opportunity for both parents to take a greater part in the enhancement of their careers, as well as ensuring the children get the family influence, improvements required can happen. But until women start blowing their own trumpets to the same tune their male counterparts are, then the pay gap will never narrow.

So if companies, government and women themselves were able to recognise the immense value of mothers within the workplace, deep change would begin. This is important because mothers would be serving themselves, society and their families by continuing their career paths. So when they can really connect to a true sense that they are worthy of the same wages as their male counterparts, only then will the gender pay gap start to reduce significantly.

Look out for my next article which discusses the different ways you can start asking for what you want in your life.

If you would like to improve your confidence, I invite you to connect to the link below to receive my free ‘Increase Your Confidence’.




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