Did you know that only 2.1 percent of all working parents both work full-time? For me this number sounded incredibly low – but looking closely at my own experience and what I have seen and heard from other working moms, it actually comes as no surprise that most women withdraw, often reluctantly, from their until then successful careers. It’s the year 2021 and we are still dealing with a severe parents-career-gap. How is this possible? In my eyes there are three factors that make it incredibly hard for women to return to their careers full time after having given birth or having taken parental leave: older generations, the companies themselves, and their (male) partners.
The grandparents: “Why are you giving your child away?”
When I spoke to my 65-year-old mother on the phone the day before my son started going to day-care she opened the conversation with the sentence “Tomorrow you are giving the poor little guy away to strangers.” Having had no support from either her or my father during the last year and having made perfectly clear that I have to work to pay off my real estate loan this statement hit me hard. I am sure this is a sentence no man will ever hear from his mother because it still is intrinsically embedded in older generations that child care is women’s business – no matter how successful in her job the woman was in all the years before she became a mother. I am wondering how many generations it will still take before it is broadly understood that both sexes can take care of children just as well (which is scientifically proven) and have a right to continue their profession to the extent they wish. The sad thing is, I do understand that sensitive women have a hard time dealing with the opinions and expectations of older generations or society in general and that for some of them it might seem easier to give in to the pressure and do as told: staying home with the children, taking care of the household.
The recruiters: “But how flexible are you really with a child?”
I have a friend who is currently looking for a job. She is a communications professional and had a very demanding job before she became a mom – sadly she lost it because her company had to file for bankruptcy due to covid. Now she is hitting the job interviews and what she tells me about the way people are interrogating her is quite unbelievable. In her resume she frankly stated that she is a mom of an almost two-year old and this revelation seems to cause a lot of uncertainty for the people sitting across from her. “In this position you need to be very flexible – but how flexible are you really with a child?” is one question she had to answer, accompanied by the remark “You must get a lot of support from your husband” – because this apparently is what husbands do: They support their wives instead of doing the 50 percent of the house and care work that is rightfully theirs (read on for more on this topic). Who wouldn’t feel insecure during and after such an interview? The chances of being hired for a demanding job as a young mother are close to zero and as long as there are so few female executives who are mothers themselves in charge of hiring new staff, it will always be that way.
The bosses: “Come back from parental leave and then we’ll see.”
But even if you have a challenging job that you like and that you are looking forward to return to your boss will find a way to take responsibility away from you if he doesn’t want women with children in leadership positions. I know a couple of moms who returned to work after their parental leave and were told to “take it easy” and to start by “supporting the others” instead of going back to their old positions right away. Long story short: All of them never returned to their old positions – because apparently you cannot take on any responsibility working part-time or because somebody else filled the position so well during their parental leave that it would be “unfair” to transfer this other (male) person to another job. Another quite effective way to scare away a young mother from her part-time job is to give her so much work that she needs to work every night after the little one has been put to sleep and to slowly, but vigorously drive her into total exhaustion and desperation. This works especially well with motivated, hardworking women who first look for the fault in themselves when something doesn’t work out, instead of blaming their boss for putting them up to a mission impossible. Result? The particular friend I am referring to quit her job – which was definitely the right thing to do, but won’t help the next part-time-working mom who will have to suffer under this boss.
The husband: “But I need to relax after work”
How many hours does a normal office job take? Usually eight hours per day, sometimes nine – on rare occasions a little more. But you get to pee when you need to pee, you get to drink your (hot) coffee with a colleague whilst indulging in the latest office-chit-chat and you can concentrate on doing one thing at a time. Taking care of a child in contrast does not allow for all those things and usually takes all day and often also all night. Personally, I have felt that working an office job is a lot more relaxing than chasing a toddler on the playground all day which is why I can fully understand that the main care-giving person of any household needs a break when the working parent comes home. What I am hearing from female friends with working husbands or boyfriends nevertheless sounds differently: “I cannot take care of our child right after coming home, I need an hour for myself first to wind down.” Or: “I hate groceries shopping, I don’t want to do it.” Or: “I need to sleep, without eight hours of sleep I get cranky.” Or: “The kitchen is dirty, really? I did not notice that.” Seriously, boys? Listening to those excuses and sensitivities while the ladies selflessly change diapers, cook meals, clean the high chair over and over again, get up each and every night, breastfeed, shop new kids clothes, sell the too small clothes, vacuum the flat five times a week, comfort and dry tears and take showers in less than two minutes is pathetic. In order to find a better division of household and child care labour some of my friends tried out creative methods: One couple tracked the time of their household work in order to have a statistically proven figure indicating how much more time the woman is spending with it – after that it was easier to convince the husband to take on more work. Another couple came up with an elaborate checklist for daily, weekly and monthly chores that are divided up equally among them. Another couple – very pragmatically – hired help. All these approaches are good, but they have one thing in common: The initiative for a fair division of labour needs to come from the women, otherwise men would still take it for granted that women are doing more around the house – even if they are working a paid job! This general opinion is also reflected by the everlasting phrase “You can be so lucky that your husband cooks/cleans/takes care of his child” that can still be heard from older generation or extremely conservative people. I say: Come on boys, level up with the ladies! We live in the year 2021. If a woman can give birth, you can at least do your fair share of the daily work that is involved (and, contrary to giving birth, it doesn’t hurt).
What are your experiences with mothers looking for jobs, returning to work or dealing with household-trouble? I am always interested in other opinions, experiences and progressive thoughts.