I Am A Symptom of Corporate Australia’s Lack of Support For Working Mothers

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Angela Priestly of Women’s Agenda recently wrote an article ‘Forced Out: How mums became the reluctant entrepreneurs.’

She goes on to talk about how many excellent businesses have formed by women working from home, juggling kids and a household.

Then she posed this question:

‘But is the rising number of ‘mumpreneurs’ actually a symptom of something happening in corporate Australia’.

working mothers

As a business owner myself, a woman who started a business when Elliott was about 8 months old, I say a big fat YES to this question.  There definitely is something happening and it’s shit house.

Although her article referred to new research, research which found that there is, in fact, a bigger problem where most mother’s established a new business at home because of unsupportive work environments and the cost of childcare, I could have told you this without any research, based on my experience and the experiences of people I know.

My decision to work for myself was not initially out of the want for a better and more flexible lifestyle, it was definitely a last resort because my then employer completely stuffed me over just before I was due to return to my job from maternity leave. My position was conveniently no longer in existence, the things we had verbally agreed to prior to my maternity leave supposedly didn’t happen and the only option on offer was a huge demotion, but not even that was guaranteed.

Yes, I could have pursued the unfairness of it all,  but did I have the time or energy? No. I was also battling postnatal depression so dealing with it was the last thing I wanted to do. And this, I believe, is how many employers get away with it.

I kicked myself for some time after finding out I no longer had my job because I didn’t document any of the discussions and agreements I had made with my then employer.

I was promised that I could return to the same role, I was promised flexibility and the ability to work from home so that I didn’t have to worry about childcare. I was told I could bring Elliott into the office too.  But a couple of months before I was due to return to work, that’s when I figured it was never their intention to have me back at all. I felt like a complete idiot. Apparently the discussions we had and the verbal agreements that were made between my manager and I never happened. I had no proof.

Hot tip! Keep a diary and get all agreements in writing!

Working mothers

So here I was at the end of 2012 without the job I had planned to return to. The money we’d saved so I could have one year off with Elliott had almost dried up. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the lucky ones that received maternity pay from my employer. That’s when I decided to take the situation into my own hands and start my own business. It was stressful, it was a huge risk, it wasn’t easy, but I look back on it now and know it was the best thing I ever did. But still, the way it happened was not right at all, yet so many employers seem to get away with it.

In the article by Angela Priestly, 60 self-employed mothers were interviewed and shared a very similar experience to mine.  From these interviews, two-thirds of the women were pushed to start their own business because of inflexible work schedules, poor quality part-time jobs and, surprise surprise, discriminatory attitudes towards flexible workers.

The system is still most definitely broken and some women simply don’t have a choice. I’m amazed too that many of the stories I hear of inflexible employer attitudes involve female managers, women who have raised children themselves. My manager was and I could never understand it. Working mothers seem to be such a burden on others yet if you look into other research, working mothers are actually the most productive of everyone. They work fewer hours a week but are more productive in those given hours to get what they need to get done, done.

Apart from it being a ‘last resort’ or ‘last minute’ option for many, followed by a lifestyle choice, there’s no doubt that taking the self-employed route has it’s downsides when it comes to holiday pay, sick pay and superannuation. The last time I was paid superannuation was when I was employed by someone else. Since starting my business in 2012, I’ve made enough money to pay myself and pay my business expenses. When I am sick or take a holiday, I just have to take it without pay or drag myself to the computer coughing and spluttering.

It seems that this is not uncommon, the article suggested that many self-employed mothers face the same predicament and were not building scalable businesses that could provide the kind of income needed to sustain super, holidays and paid sick leave. Of course, I would absolutely love to scale my business and have thought of doing so on a number of occasions, but doing this while raising a family isn’t an easy task and it requires a lot of dedication, energy and strong support network.

Although the way I came to starting my own business disappoints me, I’m actually thankful now that it did happen as it’s opened so many doors, but I don’t believe mothers should ever be put in this situation and feel that they have to work extra hard to start their own business because it’s their only option for flexibility.

Of course employers and mother’s can better work together but I think you’ll find it’s the mothers that are more than willing and the employers that need to start stepping up and stop excluding mothers because of their situation. If mothers are so successful in running their own businesses, employers must be really missing out.

 

Did your employer offer flexibility after you had children and needed to return to work? 

Eva Lewis (The Multitasking Woman)

Eva is the Editor and Owner of The Multitasking Woman - a lifestyle and parenting blog.She always has her fingers in many different pies but wouldn't have it any other way. Eva is a Mum to her 4-year-old son, 2 month old daughter, two chickens, one dog and a fish called Bob and a wife to Mr G. They all live happily in their little cottage on the outskirts of Brisbane.

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11 Comments

  1. May 19, 2016 / 9:43 pm

    I think the other big issue is the immense brain drain this is placing on corporate Australia. How many great leaders are they losing because they can’t figure out how to be flexible?

  2. May 20, 2016 / 12:50 pm

    I can’t imagine how hard it is. Years ago I decided I wanted to cut back. I was a public servant and worked long hours. I was in my late 30s or early 40s – still single with no kids. All of my effort went into paying my mortgage.

    I talked to someone about it. They were shocked:

    “But you don’t have kids?” they said.
    And then… “Are you going to do some study?”

    I told them I just wanted an extra day to do chores and housework and have some time for myself. It was like I had no justification for taking the time off. It felt as if it was wrong! Very frustrating.

  3. May 20, 2016 / 1:44 pm

    I’m actually home today with a sick child. I know I am going to cop dirty looks and the silent treatment when I go back on Monday. My workplace is totally inflexible for those with families it makes it so hard. Some employers just don’t value their employees enough and what some fail to understand is that if they are flexible and accommodating then their employees are likely to return the same and be very loyal and hardworking.

  4. J
    May 20, 2016 / 1:53 pm

    There is so little protection under law here. I’ve worked in the UK and Australia, and know that employers in the UK tread on eggshells around women on maternity leave. Mainly because the penalties for getting it wrong are hefty. It doesn’t necessarily mean that attitudes are more supportive, but it does mean women aren’t forced into disadvantageous situations simply because genetics say they have to do the childbearing.

    Anglo attitudes towards flexible working have a long way to go before they leap off the page of a finely crafted policy and into the ethos of the organisation whose name appears on the top of the document.

  5. May 20, 2016 / 2:13 pm

    I got really lucky with my employer, the agreed to me returning to my role part time and this year have granted me twelve months long service leave (at half pay) in order to be there for my sons kinder year. But I know I’m in the minority, I know I’m blessed and I’m so grateful for it!

  6. May 20, 2016 / 3:11 pm

    I was one of the lucky ones as I was able to go part time in my workplace after returning from maternity leave but I feel I have missed out on a lot of opportunities as I’m part time and the opportunities always go to those that are full time.

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