The Gender Pay Gap. Can We Fix It? Yes We Can!
A new report tells parents what we have always known - having kids affects a mother's earning potential. The pay gap is smaller than ever for women in their 20s, but as soon they start a family, typically in their 30s, the pay gap widens. The report praises government initiatives and positive trends, which should of course be applauded, but let's not ignore that becoming a parent significantly affects earning potential - and it's mothers who are suffering, not both parents.
The Twitter trolls were out in force when I posted my disappointment in this. Of course my earnings would suffer - it's the sacrifice of being a parent. Nope, I replied, it's the sacrifice of being a MOTHER. Comments were made about the fact that hourly earnings are very close to equal. But doesn't that completely miss the point? Sure, I'm paid the same, hour for hour, as my equally qualified and hard-working male colleagues. But men don't get knocked up. I felt branded when pregnant, as if I was wearing a badge saying, "No need to promote me - I'm off!" Senior colleagues made reference to my "time off". Please, call it maternity leave. It's hardly a two-week holiday on the Algarve. And needless to say, my husband didn't face any of these pressures or comments despite being one of the first in his company to take advantage of the shared parental leave rules that came in in 2015.
I returned to work after both my babies, and struggled with the change in my life. My responsibilities at home were much greater, but at work, after two maternity leaves in three years, my responsibilities had understandably been absorbed by the team. I felt as if all my hard work and ambition had been forgotten. 12 years in the workforce are easily overlooked after a few months out. And during pregnancy and leave - in my experience anyway - there were missed career opportunities, and of course the missed salary. Here's where the pay gap is. Two maternity leaves mean two years on a very significantly reduced income (despite my generous employer paying over the statutory allowance). Children and childcare costs mean many mums go back to work part-time with the inevitable change in salary. It's mathematically obvious, but many of my younger colleagues didn't realise that working a 4-day week meant a 20% pay cut, which came on the back of a long and lean maternity leave.
But how do we fix this? Men don't have the body parts to grow and deliver babies, and can't breastfeed. So women are always going to bear the brunt of the initial weeks, and of course need recovery time (sorry ladies). However since the introduction of shared parental leave it's perfectly possible for men and women to split the year of leave available. Nevertheless take up is still minimal - my husband was a rarity. If a company wants to show it's not ignoring the gender pay gap, it needs to champion these possibilities, and make them the norm. If you are a man and want your tiny newborn daughter to have the same opportunities as a son, then you have to embrace shared parental leave and show her that not only is raising children a job for both parents, but that mum's career matters too.
There are so many other issues around the gender pay gap. Childcare costs are hugely prohibitive to lower earners, meaning for some mums that returning to work is financially unviable. Baby changing tables are very often in the ladies loos. Society is set up for mum to be the primary career, not dads. But the rise of the Latte Papas on the continent shows that we can make the switch. And some mums want to stay at home with their kids, which is always going to skew the figures, but that’s to be embraced because freedom of choice is the very basis of equality.
Let's embrace the gift of shared parental leave and make the pay gap smaller, so our daughters don't have to.