A new study conducted by Totaljobs and the Fawcett Society, titled “Paths to parenthood: Uplifting new mothers at work,” has revealed the staggering impact of childcare pressures on working mothers in the United Kingdom.
The research paints a grim picture, with one in ten working mothers, totalling over 249,124 individuals, being compelled to leave their jobs due to inadequate childcare support for children aged four or under.
The report highlights the disproportionate impact of childcare responsibilities on women’s careers and the alarming challenges they face in balancing work and family life.
Despite the growing number of mothers in the workforce, post-childbirth inequalities are not only affecting women disproportionately but are also jeopardizing the overall productivity of the UK workforce.
Mothers are leaving their jobs
The survey results indicate that one in five working mothers (19%) have contemplated leaving their jobs due to the difficulties of juggling work and childcare responsibilities. This concern has pushed one in ten (11%) working mothers to resign, a figure that rises to 13 percent for single mothers, effectively condemning many women to stagnant careers and the so-called ‘mummy track.’
The strain of balancing work and childcare has further exacerbated the UK’s already weakened productivity. As working mothers exit the workforce, a staggering 72 percent of working parents have been compelled to take unpaid leave due to childcare responsibilities. Notably, women from non-white backgrounds (79%) and single mothers (73%) face even higher rates of unpaid leave. The importance of addressing these specific experiences in bridging the gender pay gap and supporting returning mothers cannot be overstated.
Working Mums Undervalued and Overlooked
The research underscores the obstacles women face in advancing their careers while managing childcare. An astonishing 79 percent of women report facing barriers in their career progression due to childcare responsibilities, with 41 percent of them having turned down promotions or career development opportunities, a figure 4 percent higher than working fathers. Single mothers face even more significant challenges, with 49 percent of them declining career progression opportunities.
These hindrances in career development are linked to prevailing attitudes toward working mothers, with one-third of employers wrongly assuming that pregnant women and mothers are less interested in career progression. However, the reality is different, with 76 percent of working mothers remaining as ambitious as before, and 44 percent claiming they are even more ambitious after having a child. Despite their ambitions and capabilities, 68 percent of working mothers feel that their contributions are often undervalued and overlooked in the workplace.
The Motherhood Pay Penalty
Alongside these career progression barriers, the research underscores the financial pressures faced by working parents. Balancing childcare responsibilities and work has proven financially challenging for 85 percent of parents, with women disproportionately bearing the brunt of this burden. Women are 1.4 times more likely to feel strained by childcare costs compared to fathers, 1.5 times more likely to be stressed by household bills, and an additional 1.5 times more likely to struggle with saving for future expenses.
In the long term, a quarter (25%) of women with one child express a desire to have more but cannot afford to do so. As birth rates continue to decline, the ongoing struggle to balance childcare costs with work threatens to exacerbate labour market challenges in the future.
The research highlights that the most desired support for parents is flexible work arrangements, with 39 percent of mothers and 26 percent of fathers seeking this benefit. Surprisingly, only 31 percent of mothers have access to the flexible working arrangements they need.
Furthermore, working mothers face challenges in getting their flexible working requests approved, with only 39 percent of requests approved, compared to 43 percent for working fathers. During their transition back to work, 69 percent of women did not receive flexible work arrangements, leaving 85 percent of mothers struggling to find jobs that accommodate their childcare needs and feeling trapped in their current positions.
Jane Lorigan, CEO of Totaljobs, emphasized the need for businesses to create environments where working mothers can flourish, especially given the ongoing labor shortages and the potential long-term impact of childcare pressures on the workforce. She urged businesses to take critical steps to improve the situation, including tracking the progress of working mothers, creating clear policy frameworks, and ensuring that support is readily available to all who need it.
Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, called for meaningful changes in supporting women who have been out of the workforce longest, particularly those who take extended maternity leaves and single parents. She emphasised the importance of embracing flexible working cultures, particularly for mothers, and called on businesses and the government to prioritise ending the motherhood penalty by properly supporting women to balance their work and caring responsibilities.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.