Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Interesting read on mothering and working

Thanks to a FB friend for directing me towards this thought-provoking column at Salon, including:
When Paul Krugman warns that many of the currently jobless "will never work again," I am petrified -- hello, 3 a.m.! -- that he means me. I long ago lost track of how many jobs I have applied for, including some I wouldn't have looked twice at in my 20s, but I can count the resulting interviews and have fingers left to twiddle idly. Before I left full-time work in 1996, my then-husband and I, both reporters at the same newspaper, earned the exact same salary. Now my ex, still a reporter, is making $30,000 a year more than that, while I have been passed over for jobs paying $20,000 less.

Quite terrifying reading, although I think the author's situation may be a bit exacerbated by the industry she is in (journalism).  At least that's what I'm telling myself as I contemplate my return to the paid work that pays most of our bills in less than two months, when Snuffly will be a little over six months old. 

The article is of course quite US-centric, but I suspect many of the troubles Read is facing may translate here.  I haven't job-hunted for six years, so I'm totally out of touch with the realities of that quest - what are your experiences, whether you are seeking to mix paid work with child-rearing or not.


Nicky said...

Hiya, could I just make a small distinction about 'returning to work'? I have never worked so hard in my life as when I became a mother -- I just wasn't paid. So could we refer to going back to paid work, thereby acknowledging that mothers do work, regardless of whether it's inside or outside of the home?

katy said...

"The economic crisis will erode women's interest in "opting out" to care for children, heightening awareness that giving up financial independence -- quitting work altogether or even, as I did, going part-time -- leaves one frighteningly vulnerable."

Female fertility has been shown to be linked to the labour market and rather than not wanting to "opt out" of work, where work is not readily accessible for mothers women have actually "opted out" of marrying and having children:

"Extensive research in 16 OECD countries has shown that there is a strong correlation between high female employment rates and large government cash transfers to families, generous replacement pay during parental leave, the availability of plenty of part-time work and lots of formal child care. Where all these things are present, fertility rates tend to go up. France and most of the Nordic countries have embraced such policies and been rewarded with a rise in fertility close to replacement level. It does not come cheap: the OECD reckons that they spend 3-4% of GDP on direct benefits to families, far more than do Germany, Japan and southern Europe.

The odd ones out are America and Britain, which both have lots of women at work and fertility rates close to replacement level (with immigration making up the rest). Neither of them exactly spoils its families with financial inducements or state-provided child care, but their flexible labour markets make it easy for women to get back into work after childbirth, and public opinion approves of working mothers."


Julie said...

Hi Nicky, that's a good point, especially as I have also been effectively in a (paid) part time job since 18th October as well. Will do a bit of a re-word, I totally agree with you and am usually a bit more careful about my language in regard to that, sorry.

Violet said...

Being continuously out of paid work for several years is sure to put you at a disadvantage - I read somewhere that the longer you are out of work the less likely you are to find paid work.
I think ideally, you'd do the same job part-time when your kids are really young, then at least you've got your foot in the door when you're ready to go full time again.

Anonymous said...

First time poster

being a smidgeon PC about the term 'work" here aren’t we? Common usage of the term "returning to work" and other similar uses of the word work in this context obviously relates to paid employment. As does such terms as "what did you do at work today?", "where do you work?" etc
The fact that there are lots of other usages of the word work that don't refer to paid employment does not mean that the author is demeaning the other uses of that word or saying that mothers don't work, which is the quiet implication about referring to paid employment to distinguish from the work mothers do. While we are at it why don’t we also refer to the fact that those who have long term sick partners or dependants to be looked after also work like dogs or the many that dedicate much of their lives to various causes etc. I can think of loads of deserving people who work hard.

On the work front; many employers don’t treat mothers returning to the workforce as well as they might expect from when they left the workforce. From my experience there are several employer thought processes that need to be taken in to account:
- wariness that this is an interlude between babies with the corresponding loss of an employee at some point in the near future
- wariness that the returning mother will require significant amount of time for the child/children and that this will detract from her effort in the job
- an expectation that the returning mother is significantly more insecure and eager to find work and thus provide an opportunity to get a bargain. I have seen too many returning mothers practically apologising for having a child during the interview process in their insecurity.

Ignoring the several likely fallacies as that is mostly irrelevant the vast majority of employers are unlikely to address the above issues explicitly as doing so can leave them legally vulnerable but that doesn’t stop them thinking it and having it unstated leaves them free to think the worst as many seem to do. My advice would be to front up to these issues and address them explicitly as it gives you the opportunity to influence these thought processes.