Is the answer just equal pay?

First, some context and disclaimer stuff: I’m a working mum, I’m definitely not an employment law expert so apologies to anyone reading this who is.  If you’re reading my blog for the first time, this isn’t my normal kind of content and you can read the other stuff I write here.  For the purposes of this post I’m sticking with the stereotypical perspective of women as the main carers of kids, and who want to work part time to fulfil both roles.


I was reading this from People Management the other day and it got me thinking.

I’m always wary of sticky-plaster, ‘tell’, enforcement solutions to problems: expecting businesses to report their pay gap and shaming them to reduce the it feels like that to me.

Of course I believe it’s a good thing to shine a light on the cultural inequality that exists and I also believe that if it was so simple and easy to fix then we’d be doing it by now.

Definitely underlying this is the fact that women remain the primary carers of kids (although we are seeing some changes here), and this, mixed with some fundamental mindset challenges from employers, give us a gender pay gap.  Let me explain more about the mindset stuff –

1. The belief that part time employees are less committed. I’ve been that part time employed mum, and 110% committed to my job. Of course there are part time people who aren’t committed. And there are full time people who aren’t committed too.

2. The belief that part time people can’t be as effective at work because they have to leave ‘on time’ (how dare they!) to get the kids.  Trust me, when it’s necessary to get your work done in fewer hours it really does focus the mind on your biggest priorities! And it helps you to be creative about how you get things done.  Incidentally this ‘enforced’ break* from work also brings you back fresher rather than slogging on even when your brain has shut down and left the building.

* Note – kids aren’t so much a break but at least they’re an alternative work environment where you can expend emotional and physical energy rather than cognitive.

3. The belief that part time people can’t take on extra projects and go the extra mile. Now this belief is probably true, although often because employers try to pretend they’re offering part time when really it’s 5 days’ work being done in 4.  This means these women are less likely to get the highest performance ratings and therefore won’t get the highest salary increases or bonus payments – and the pay gap starts to emerge.

Then there’s working mums’ career mobility – or lack of.

It’s well-known that to progress your career and salary faster, you move jobs – and ideally company – every 5 years-ish. Each time getting a chunkier increase than the normal annual rises or performance-related increases.

As a part time employee and mum (or any other carer) this isn’t so easy. Part time jobs are hard to come by, you need to consider the distance from the childcare provider, and whether the new employer will understand your need to go home when said child has vomited all over the nursery, and in fact you might not even have the headspace to consider a career move given everything else you’re juggling. This isn’t even just true for part time employees.  I know lots of mums who are full time and who also stay where they are because they’ve already proven themselves and are therefore able to have that give and take relationship with their employer.  So this is great that they have this relationship – and it’s also a big factor in limiting their pay progression options as they can’t so easily helicopter in to another business and demand the higher external candidate premium.

So by not being able to move jobs like a full-timer, career and salary-increase options for carers (and therefore mostly women) become more limited – not impossible but more limited.

Which, combined with the “I can’t physically do the ‘above and beyond’ work to get the extra pay rise” shows up in the gaps we see in pay.  (Plus the illegal gaps that are there due to downright bad practice under Equal Pay.)

So here there’s a belief from the women rather than the employer (albeit fed from the reality many face from employers)

4. I can’t move job, there’s no part time, it’s not convenient for nursery, they might not understand my other commitments.

Given all this, just telling businesses to pay women the same isn’t right.  And in fact, why should they?   If I compare it to my situation now, I’m still less mobile than a full-timer non-carer is.  That’s the choice for me and my family, and I don’t expect my clients to pay me more to make up that difference in income.  So why should it be different in an employed situation?

The reality from a business perspective is that if you’re at work more and you’re more flexible to do more stuff, and you can chase new jobs more often, you get rewarded for it.

This reward for your endeavours is based on a strong foundation of trust and reliability of those people to deliver.  Anyone (like mothers) who can’t provide that reliability will drive fear into the hearts of managers who ‘just need to deliver the results’.  These managers are operating in a fear-driven environment where their own job is on the line if they don’t hit the numbers.  Why on earth would they choose to hire a part-time mum?

So really, when we get right down to it, if this conversation is going to shift, the whole premise of how we do business is what really needs to change!   Because we need to remove the fear.

And for most businesses that means we need a big enough groundswell of evidence that looking after the whole of your employee is good for business, that having people who can balance all of their life is good for business, that happy employees (part time, full time, any time) are better for business than employees who are chained to their desk to prove they can ‘deliver the results’.

Once we have this, anyone can work flexibly without fearing for their career – or their pay.

What do you think?

This is me……………

Executive Coaching and Leadership Development

WFS Tree

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