Thursday 29 September 2016

It's a working mum's world - nurse, cook, maid, teacher ...

Lorraine Courtney

Published 24/05/2016 | 02:30

'The problem is that our current understanding of ‘working mother’ is that of babysitter, teacher, nurse, cook and maid all rolled into one frazzled fembot. And what about our understanding of dads who work? Well, they’re just men.' Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
'The problem is that our current understanding of ‘working mother’ is that of babysitter, teacher, nurse, cook and maid all rolled into one frazzled fembot. And what about our understanding of dads who work? Well, they’re just men.' Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A new Glassdoor survey, which compared equality measures in European countries and the US, found the gender pay gap is wider in Ireland than anywhere else in the study. No surprise there, given our troublesome combination of paltry paternal leave, lack of flexi-jobs and steep childcare costs.

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The study shows the pay difference between Irish men and women who have at least one child and those with no children is 31 percentage points. To put this into perspective, there's just a three-point difference for Belgium, Spain and Italy.

We all know that women fall down when they take time off to have a baby, and then need a more flexible schedule to look after it because childcare is still primarily the mother's responsibility. Lots of professional women then either leave the workforce, choose to go part-time or avoid looking for promotions, while their male colleagues soar ahead.

From September 2016, the free access to pre-school will be widened to cover children between the ages of three and five-and-a-half, who are not already in primary school. We will also have the introduction of statutory paternity leave of two weeks.

But don't start jumping up and down. Research by wealth management company Killik last month found British mothers with two children in a crèche needed to earn at least £40,000 (€51,650) a year when the mother returns to work if she and her family are not to be left out of pocket.

This is the point at which a mother's salary after paying income tax would outweigh the money she must find for childcare, commuting and pension contributions - meaning she would be left with just £4 (€5.16) a day for other needs.

We have to push for a culture among employers that recognises the value of working mothers to the workplace. This means investment in affordable childcare - whether provided by companies themselves or subsidised by the Government - and the possibility of flexible hours or working from home, for men as well as women, so childcare is not seen as something only women do.

Our workplace discrimination laws need to be strengthened and implemented properly.

These laws do exist, but a mother (and it's always the mother) can't continually call in to ask for time off because her child is sick. All working parents deserve greater protection. That's parents, mind you, not just mothers. Of course, childcare is only a part of the picture.

There's much more going on with the pay gap: unconscious bias (or just plain discrimination), less financial recognition for roles disproportionately taken up by women, lack of confidence which prevents women from asking for higher pay and a long list of issues that join up and conspire to result in women being paid less.

There are those who will argue that it's only when part-time and full-time jobs are compared that women look underpaid.

Part-time jobs pay less and women know this when they enter them.

It's 2016 and here we are, still looking around at one another with confused faces about why a woman might choose to work half a job.

We've fully persuaded ourselves that being a 'working mother' is a problem for the modern woman, while the 'working father' is not even mentioned without sniggering.

The problem is that our current understanding of 'working mother' is that of babysitter, teacher, nurse, cook and maid all rolled into one frazzled fembot. And what about our understanding of dads who work? Well, they're just men.

They don't call themselves 'working dads' or worry about 'having it all'. For a man, a career and children is a given. Good, old-fashioned sexism strikes again. There's also those of us who are economically infertile - women who would love to have children if work was more flexible, if parental leave and childcare were both parents' responsibilities.

Writing in 'The Pool' recently, journalist Daisy Buchanan said: "Thinking about it is like playing an unsolvable game of sudoku. If we had a baby, we'd need more space. We can't afford to rent anywhere bigger in London, so we'd need to move away. But we have jobs that are in London and we can't afford to feed or clothe the baby without the income those jobs provide.

"When working, we'd need to pay for childcare, which, if you're earning an average UK salary, seems to leave you with about a fiver of take-home pay. This is all before the baby needs wild luxuries, like a school uniform and Calpol."

Any of this sound familiar?

What do men have that we don't? The answer: a wife. But we can balance out the scales of inequality by shoving the ironing board in front of them every evening.

Irish Independent

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