I think about working mothers a lot – probably because I am one of them. I work because I have to. I’m a solo parent and get no child support and if I don’t work I don’t have an income. And I like to work. I like to get out of the house and go to a job.
Last year when I was out of work for a few months I felt like I’d lost my identity. Sunday nights became different to what they used to be. They used to be nights that I’d dread because I had to go to work the next morning and the weekend was over for a few more days. Now that I’m back in the workforce I still don’t enjoy Sunday nights but I’m bloody grateful I have a job to go to the next morning.
Having a baby certainly changed things in the workforce for me though. It doesn’t matter how family-friendly organisations say they are, when it boils down to it, for the most part, they aren’t really because the workplace is geared towards the five day a week worker. It’s so ingrained that I think it’s hard for a shift in this thinking. Things have changed over the last couple of decades but shifts are happening very slowly.
I had nine months off work before and after having my baby, and when I went back to work I didn’t get my original job back. Their excuse was that it was a full-time job and as I would only be working part-time they really needed someone in the job full-time. Job share wasn’t an option. I got a few bits and pieces to do, and was quite bored. I don’t think they kept their honour in the maternity leave bargain and I suppose that was their right as my employer. I stuck it out for a year then moved onto another job within the same organisation, picked up an extra day of work and said goodbye to the job that had been cobbled together for me.
Ever since then I’ve managed to be able to work part-time, and I’m talking ten years. I’m sure that if I was really ambitious on the career front then I’d work full time and have a ‘high-flying job’ but I don’t want to work full-time and to be honest I don’t think I want the executive job (subtext I don’t want the expected hours of an executive). I like a challenge and I can handle responsibility but when push comes to shove, I value my non-work life more. I’m only going to have a young child once in my life and I want to be around as much as I can while he is young. Plus he’s expressed to me that he doesn’t want to go to after school care every day. I’m more accountable to him than to any employer at this stage of his life.
It makes it hard when applying for jobs though as there aren’t that many jobs that I want that are advertised as part-time. However, I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to negotiate working one less day a week in the jobs I have had.
With part-time work though, there’s inevitably someone who makes some sort of ‘joke’ comment about your part-time status. That used to annoy me when it happened but now I just brush it off instead of taking it personally. And there’s people who are envious of my part-time status and I remind them that I get paid less. But I also advcoate part-time-ness as much as I can because I think more people should do it. Believe it or not you get used to living on less and the world doesn’t stop if you’re not at work one day.
Processes can be put in place to cover emergencies, and hey, I’ve been called on a day off if needed. That hasn’t happened that often, but I’ll never forget one time when my son was still quite young and used to wake up at 5.30 every morning. I’d been up with him early and brought him into my bed and we both fell back to sleep only to be awakened by a phone call from my boss at 8.30. I can’t remember what it was about but I know it was trivial and I know I was very annoyed to be wakened. I felt like it was a ‘even though you’re part-time, you’re still on my payroll and I’ve got access to you whenever I need during my working hours’ type call.
I also know that working part-time has meant that colleagues have had to do somethings on my days off that I would normally have done but I’ve covered for them in return. After all people go on holidays and have sick leave don’t they?
But while my working hours have been part-time I’ve also organised extra childcare to go into work early for a breakfast presentation, go away to a conference, work on a weekend and I’ve done work from home. My type of work being with the internet and all, means that I can work from anywhere. News flash – I DON’T HAVE TO BE IN THE OFFICE TO WORK. In fact, I’m more contactable now as a part-timer than I ever was as a full-timer 20 years ago because of technology changes. It’s a real pity that organisational change can’t happen half as quickly as technological change.
I don’t have the statistics to hand but I’m sure I’ve had less sick days as a part-timer than I did beforehand. This is not including the first year of my son’s childcare where he caught every bug and passed it onto me. I reckon I’ve also been more productive while at work because I know I’ve got less time to do my work in. As Fridays have mostly been the day when I’m not in the office, I haven’t been able to participate in the Thank God It’s Friday Let’s Talk About What We’re Doing On the Weekend drawn out chats or the Friday afternoon drinks.
I went for a job once that was advertised as part- or full-time and when it came up the interviewer said that the job was full-time and they had to have someone there all the time so part-time wasn’t an option. This was very black and white to them – there was no middle ground at all. I didn’t get the job and I don’t know if that was the main reason but it certainly put me off working there had I been offered the job. After all, if there was no flexibility around working hours then would there be flexibility around other things? My instincts told me no.
I’ve seen it time and time again too, working mothers discrimination that is. How different would it be, I wonder, if more of the decision makers were carers or mothers who understand what it’s like to try and juggle caring for someone and working.
As I wrote this I wondered what others thought so I turned to the internet to do some research. I’ve linked to one article above, but I also found this paper ‘Working part time‘ written 11 years ago and unfortunately still relevant now. It was written by Beth Gaze for the Law and Justice Journal for Queensland University of Technology. She says that while women’s and children’s lives have altered enormously because of more women working outside of the home, men’s lives have hardly changed at all.
She also concludes that, ‘… the challenge is to increase the spread and acceptability of part time work for men and women, and to increase the acceptability of caring for children for both men and women. Developing a better model of part time work and its rationale is an important step along the way.’
I absolutely agree with this but am at a loss to suggest how to effect this type of change.
I’d love to know your experience. Have you worked part-time in a professional capacity? Has it affected your career do you think? Other thoughts?
ADDED: After I published this post I read an article that Justine Musk wrote about women and ambition which really resonated with me and tied in somewhat with the theme of this post, including this bit, “Having babies and raising children – especially as a single mother – requires an ambition all its own, especially in a culture that pays lip service to motherhood without awarding it any real status or economic value.”
I’d written above that I don’t really have any career ambition but I am ambitious and not just because I’m a mother.
David Gardiner says
All I can think about is where is the other screen(s)?
Bosses need to value their employees (part time and full time), and also need to resource them properly – be that to work at home, or work in the office so they can be productive.
Don’t worry Dave, I have two screens now and don’t know how I ever worked before. You’ve hit the nail on the head with employees being valued. Too often they’re not – both full and part-time employees.
Nothing has changed since I had young children. However, I have always said the best and most efficient employee is the woman with young children. They are incredibly organized and efficient. I just remember feeling guilty all the time. Child care was and is still a nightmare. And for men, what has changed? However, I think at least some employment policies have changed for the better. Discrimination laws for one. Only thing is most employees don’t know their rights.
I absolutely agree that if you’ve got young kids and can get them and yourself organised to get to work, this has to carry over into the workplace. You’re right about most employees not knowing their rights. There’s websites that have these rights but perhaps not always easy to find?
Great post , thanks.
As a single parent , this subject is very close to my heart . Being a mother and a part-time employee is and always will be a juggle, one in which my children will always be my first priority and my employers will always expect the same amount of output from me as they did when I was full time.Such an unbalanced equation.
It is sad that things haven’t really moved along , a lot is said in the name of work/life balance but hardly anything is done .
Here’s hopin’ indeed. We just have to continue doing what we’re doing and hope that all those balls in the air don’t come crashing down.
What a great blog! I love this line.
“I like a challenge and I can handle responsibility but when push comes to shove, I value my non-work life more. I’m only going to have a young child once in my life and I want to be around as much as I can while he is young. Plus he’s expressed to me that he doesn’t want to go to after school care every day. I’m more accountable to him than to any employer at this stage of his life.”
This is exactly how I feel, I used to be a career girl but now I work from home for pittance. I have applied a couple times for part time jobs but competition is so fierce as so many mothers need that flexibility. My daughter is my boss right now. I know I do more work now in three days at home than I ever did in 5 days because I value my real life more too. Great Article.
Thanks Eleise. When will employers wake up and realise that there’s a huge market out there in people who want part-time work and some flexibility around it. There’s got to be a middle ground – surely!
Mary Louise Tucker says
Imagine being childless and asking to go part-time? It’s like you have two heads!
A bit of flexibility could be win/win. It involves a bit of trust and strong leaders. Both in short supply in many places, in my experience. It looks like you’re working it out though.
Hang in there Jenny and keep on blogging.
Thanks for chiming in. You’re absolutely right. I’ve only a relatively short amount of time that I can use my son as an excuse for part-time work. Then I’ll want part-time for me. A childless friend of mine has tried to go part-time and was allowed to for a while then asked to go back full-time. How is it that a woman just returned from maternity leave can be accommodated, but not someone else? Should be fair and surely could be workable somehow.