Why women can have a family and a career

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Have a career or start a family? Do women really have to choose between the two? AAT’s Jane Scott Paul doesn’t think so

At the start of 2012, David Cameron clearly stated: ‘The drive for more women in business is not simply about equal opportunity, it’s about effectiveness. The evidence is that there is a positive link between women in leadership and business performance.

With the government’s target of achieving at least 25 per cent female representation on FTSE 100 boards by 2015 – this topic is naturally causing headlines.

Research AAT conducted last month with 2,000 mums across the country highlighted the obstacles women face when coming back to work after having a baby.

There were two worrying statistics from the report. The first one revealed that on average, mums were found to be earning £9,419 less per year than before their child was born.

The second statistic highlighted that 70 per cent of these new mums say they are now in jobs that they feel over-qualified for and which before they fell pregnant would have felt ‘below them.’

Recently Nick Clegg announced that parental leave would become flexible for both parents after a birth of a baby, with a clear message that more women need to feel they can reach the sky and potentially have it all.

This is a major step in the right direction to change mind-sets to accept shared parenting responsibilities, but it will take time for organisations big and small to implement more flexible working and for it to become embedded into working life.

But the reality is we all will be working longer and nowadays for many there can’t only be one bread winner – both parents want to and have to work and deserve careers with progression.

As a society we have to accept that employees start families and support them, especially if they have real potential to reach the top and we’ve invested in their training and development. We have witnessed first-hand the benefits of nurturing high performing staff regardless of if they are a new mum or not.

It’s important to remember that in every employee’s working life there may be times when they need to work in a more flexible way – this could be anything from raising a child to compassionate leave. It isn’t just  new mothers that need and benefit from working differently.

With statistics like 65 per cent of women between the ages of 18-44 saying  that they feel they could achieve more in the workplace, but struggle to find a job that fits around their needs, it is clear that mums still have the ambition for career development and growth, but they do need their options to be widened.

The advancements in digital technology have meant that working a full working week but at hours that better support and fit round family life is a reality. No longer are people bound to the office desk or standard office hours. With the cost of child care being one of the highest in Europe; organisations have to be more understanding and adaptable if they want strong retention rates and they want to ensure career growth from ‘within’.

In Norway the shared responsibilities of parental care after a baby is born is working with many dads actively taking three months paternity cover. Also, 40 per cent of women sit on directorate boards and while this is enforced through quotas, there does seem to be a general acceptance that both parents can have careers that fit around young family life.

We need to ensure women feel confident that they can do both – be they mums and career women. Women bring other skillsets to the table, such as fantastic time management and multitasking skills from having not one job, but two.

Richard Branson commented: ‘Women often encounter gender-based stereotypes about who is qualified to do what kind of job, which can sometimes persist in subtle ways and must be challenged at every level.’

Mentoring programmes, flexible working, better communication and adaptable approaches to new ways of working have to be supported and implemented from the top in order to reduce barriers. This will create a more level playing field for women in the workplace, and for it to be genuinely accepted that women can have it all – a career and a family life.

Jane Scott Paul is Chief Executive of AAT

Jane Scott Paul was AAT's Chief Executive between 1997 and 2014.

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