Many women we speak to dread announcing the news of their pregnancy to their manager and colleagues, fearing the end of their careers as they know it. And many of them have due cause to fear given the high level of conscious and unconscious bias against mothers.
The latest statistics from the Fawcett Society give a clear reason why. A new Survation poll dubbed Motherhood Penalty for Women and Daddy Bonus for Men, released on International Women’s Day reveals that 46% of people think when a woman has a baby she becomes less committed to her job, while only 11% think Dads-to-be will be affected. In contrast 29% of people think fathers become more committed to their job.
Whilst some women do see starting a family as a natural time to have a career break – temporary or permanent – this gender bias and assumption that men step up whilst women step down, perpetuates the cultural belief that mothers however talented and successful pre-baby are unlikely to continue their career progression once they give birth.
Talking to high-potential women directly, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Women who do step out often regret their decision in the long term when they realize the uphill battle to return and the many empty nest years ahead. There are many businesses, like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, who have implemented programmes to help women return to the workplace after a period out of work but men need to step up, in and out of the workplace, if they want to see a more equal c-suite, both in the workplace and at home.
A new study by EY and the Peterson Institute for International Economics of almost 22,000 companies in 91 countries found that those with the highest percentages of women in leadership, including in the boardroom and at the executive level, offered fathers 11 times more paternity leave days than those companies at the bottom so clearly equal treatment including payment needs to become acceptable and common place for equality really to be genuine.
The introduction of shared parental leave in the UK might be seen by some as a nod towards the equality many have been asking for – after all many women can get back into work sooner whilst ensuring their child has the parental care they think is best for them. But how do fathers feel and are they really taking up the offer? Many Dads, when asked about it, think “great opportunity” but what is the reality of them being able to take not only their paternity leave but also their right to shared parental leave? Senior pressure and cultures of businesses are not encouraging Dads to take time out of their career and therefore in many cases these benefits are simply token offers. Men are now seeing the impact of taking a career break for family reasons in a similar way that woman have had to face throughout the years and facing the same prejudices and opinions that cause women to fear announcing their impending motherhood.
There are far too numerous studies to mention that have been undertaken that show the benefit, financially and culturally, of having women in business. And yet the prejudice continues and fathers despite the opportunities are unlikely to stick their necks out to make a stand unless they financially supported by their companies. Unless fathers make a stand, the equality that women want in business may be some time in arriving.
Lisa Barnwell is the founder of Bumps and the Boardroom and is part way through a campaign on Crowdfunder to reframe the way maternity leave is perceived and revolutionise the way mothers and business grow together. Add your support here.