Andrea Mara

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The mommy-track

Working mothers are being put on the “mommy track” according to an article in the Independent last week.
We have so many terms to learn all the time it’s hard to keep up – for anyone who is not familiar with it, “mommy track” refers to the sidelining of mothers in the workplace.
Assumptions being made by employers that once a woman has children, she is no longer interested in her career. Sure she turns up, she does her work, but her mind is on her kids, and she’s the first one out the door each evening.
This drives me mad.
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The findings quoted in the article are as follows:
More than one in four mothers feel they have been discriminated against at work while pregnant or after returning to their job, according to new research
Half of those polled by law firm Slater & Gordon said they felt left out or not taken seriously at work after having a child, while two out of five believed younger colleagues with no children were given more support and encouragement.
Three out of five said they believed pregnancy was a problem for their workplace and a third found it “impossible” to climb the career ladder after giving birth.
Now, I would imagine that in at least some of the cases, respondents were perceiving discrimination that may not have been taking place – sure.
When a woman returns to work after maternity leave, it can take time to settle back in, and there can be a sense of being in limbo, a sense of not quite fitting in. If someone has been covering her work while she was out, she may feel that she has to prove that her return is adding value for her employer. In a sense, she is in subconscious (or conscious) competition with whomever did her job while she was gone.
This lack of confidence could certainly breed a feeling of being “left out or not taken seriously” as per the survey findings. So let’s agree that for sure in some cases it’s a perceived discrimination that may disappear as the returning employee settles back and gains confidence.
But there is no doubt that there are many, many more cases where there absolutely is discrimination taking place. Not necessarily in an obvious way.
Not necessarily in a very deliberate or even conscious way. But if the end result is a woman who is being treated differently simply because she has children, it is clearly discrimination.
Of course many working mothers seek shorter hours and try to strike a better work/ life balance. They need to collect their children from childcare and they want to ensure that weekend time is set aside purely for family-time. 
They want to be present in their children’s lives. They don’t want to penalize their children any more than is necessary, for being part of a family where both parents are working outside the home. 
All laudable aspirations. Unselfish goals.
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And in some jobs this possibly does limit promotional opportunities. There certainly are jobs out there which genuinely require longer hours, meetings with counter-parties in various time-zones, or regular weekend work in addition to the normal working week – conditions that are manageable for some mothers but unattractive to most.
However there are many, many jobs where the quantity of hours is not the defining measure of quality of work.
Many jobs that do not involve late evening meetings with US colleagues or early morning conference calls with Asia.
Many jobs which can be completed during the normal working day, because the employee works fast, works smart, works hard.
It is undoubtedly possible to spend four hours or eight hours of twelve hours completing a particular volume of work – in each example, the same end goals can be achieved, it just takes longer to achieve the goals if the employee isn’t motivated to work fast.
If someone takes coffee breaks and chat breaks and long lunch breaks, of course it takes longer, and that’s fine too – as long as the work gets done (and the person is not being paid by the hour!) it doesn’t really matter how long it takes (within reason)
So if a an employee who has children works at close to 100% productivity all day; skipping breaks and chats; working through lunch if needed, there is no justification in judging her for walking out the door at 5pm.
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Judge her output not her hours
Mothers in the workplace are extremely motivated. I’m not making this up to prove a point, I’m speaking from fifteen years of experience working with colleagues who didn’t have children when I first met them and now do.
I see it with myself – I don’t do any less work than I did before I had children – I have more responsibility now and so do more work, but I fit it into four days instead of five and I leave at 5 o’clock each day instead of 6. I’m just working faster than ever before.
A problem exists if there is a blanket assumption by an employer that any mother in the workforce is no longer in consideration for promotion, simply because she has children.
Or that she is not interested in advancement.
Or that leaving on time is a sign that she has lost motivation.
Or assuming (this one drives me mad) that her mind is on her kids instead of on work. Seriously. How many mothers spend any considerable time at work staring into space thinking about kids!
Mothers are supreme multi-taskers, natural organizers, the capable managers of every aspect of life. 
In work, if nothing else, they are tremendously motivated to get the job done to leave on time to collect their children.
And while some mothers are no longer particularly interested in progressing their careers, many more are, and feel that they should be able to do so if they are producing good work. Of course. Sounds like a no-brainer really.

I don’t know how many ways I can say this! 

Employers: stop discriminating against working mothers for being organized – judge her output, not her hours.




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