Andrea Mara

Official website

I have a question

If you’re reading this, and you have children, do you work fewer hours per day or days per week than your partner? And if so, do you do that because you want to, or because you feel you’ve been forced to?

I’m reading an article in the Independent this morning, which refers to Glassdoor survey results showing Ireland as the worst country in Europe for gender pay gap. Irish women aged 25 to 34 with at least one child earn 31per cent less than their male counterparts.

women in the workplace

This left me openmouthed – Ireland has in the past come up reasonably well on gender pay gap studies – how could we have slipped so far?

I started reading to find out more. One of the issues with any pay gap study is the factors it takes into account. For example, past studies have compared full-time and part-time work without differentiating – obviously, people working part-time earn less than people working full-time. And if more women work part-time, then such a study will show a gender pay gap. But is it real – is it because women are forced to work part-time or because they choose to work part-time?

I found one Forbes article that says the study proves that the gender pay gap is about women having children – not that that’s right or OK, but that it acknowledges that the issue isn’t direct discrimination against women just because they’re women.

As someone who earned exactly what my husband earned through all the years of work, until I went to a four-day-week and (obviously) earned 80% of what he earned, this makes logical sense. Having said that, I am conscious that having worked in an environment that was extremely gender-balanced, and having never witnessed or experienced any gender discrimination at work, I am sometimes blinkered as to the extent of gender discrimination and gender pay gap in the wider world.

In a (very good) Irish Times article about the Glassdoor study this morning, I read this:

We all know that women fall down when they take time off to have a baby, and then need a more flexible schedule to look after it because childcare is still primarily the mother’s responsibility.

I completely accept that women take time off to have babies. And many women who don’t want to go back full-time are forced to quit, or change jobs, because there’s no part-time option (see here for stories of four friends of mine who stepped back from their careers after having children.) And of course, that’s a loss for everyone – the woman who resigns reluctantly, and the employer who is losing talent, when flexibility would have been a win-win.

Women who are afforded flexibility often take that option, working four- and three-day weeks, and often doing the equivalent of a full week’s work. And obviously, they earn less as a result, which is fine.

But is this because we’re forced to, or because we choose to? Is childcare still primarily the mother’s responsibility and by whose rules?

I’m possibly still in my bubble here, but when I went to a four-day-week it was because I wanted to – not because my husband told me childcare was primarily my responsibility. When I took redundancy to work from home around the kids’ school hours, that was my choice too, and fortunately I had the full support of my husband when making the decision. But are there women who are working shorter hours because someone told them it’s their responsibility, or is it because they want to? It’s a real question – maybe there are.

That we have huge problems for working parents in Ireland is clear – childcare costs will be helped in a small way by the second ECCE year, but they’re still astronomical, impossible to fix without state support, and still forcing people out of the workforce. And lack of flexibility is forcing people out of the workforce too, or to work full-time when they’d rather have something in between. And the mammy-track means some women are being sidelined and written off because they have children or because they don’t work full-time – more shortsightedness on employers’ part. But do we really have a like for like 31 per cent pay gap where male and female employees doing exactly the same job are being paid differently? And are women really being forced to take responsibility for childcare? I don’t know, but I’d love to hear your thoughts?

 

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