The gender pay gap is undoubtedly a huge issue, but what happens to that gap when a woman has a child? Stylist explores in parenting podcast Baby On The Brain.
To say having a baby is expensive would be an understatement. From childcare costs to spending £250 on a breast pump, raising a child is full of hidden (and not-so-hidden) costs.
On episode seven of Baby On The Brain, executive editor Fliss Thistlethwaite is joined by co-host Grace Holliday, a freelance journalist, and guest Joeli Brearely, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, a charity formed in 2015 for women who have faced maternity or pregnancy discrimination, to discuss the issue of money and the motherhood penalty.
“It’s the impact on the woman’s life because you are the one taking maternity leave – if you are lucky enough to have maternity leave,” says Fliss. “You are the one considering taking a year out of your career. You are the one possibly thinking when you go back, you won’t go back full time.”
As someone who is self-employed, Grace feels like there is almost an expectation on her to not worry about her finances during motherhood, simply because she has the ability to work from home.
“I feel like people are like ‘oh you’re self-employed, so you can just stay at home with the baby or the kid’ and that’s just not the case – I don’t get any work done when my cat is in the room let alone a living, breathing child,” she says.
But Grace, whose first child is due in September, is keen to start doing at least one day a week of work come January, not only due to financial pressures that come with being self-employed, but also because she wants to be a good role model for her daughter.
“I grew up with a mum who worked full time and I liked that, and I want to give that impression to my daughter,” she says. “I want her to see that mum works and that mum works often and hard and independently and is self-employed.”
Joeli, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed – a charity established after Joeli’s own experience of pregnancy discrimination – recognises that, universally, navigating finances post-pregnancy is a huge issue for new mums in the UK.
“It’s an incredibly complex picture when you have children to try and figure out how to safeguard your finances and make sure you don’t screw yourself over because it’s very easy to do.”
This is particularly an issue for women who, like Grace, are self-employed.
“There’s research that shows that there are much higher rates of post-natal depression among the self-employed compared to the employed because you’re worried about work when you’ve had a baby, you can’t relax because you’re thinking about where’s my next money going to come from, how long’s it going to take to build my business back up,” says Joeli.
In fact, statistics show that 77% of working mums have faced some form of discrimination in the workplace and that many who get pregnant are actually forced out of their jobs.
“We know from anecdotal evidence as well as bits of data that have been collected here and there that things are sadly not getting better,” she adds.
Shared parental leave is a way of helping to alleviate the issue but, at present, Joeli says that legislation is not adequate when it comes to ending expectations as to how parents should approach caregiving duties.
“It doesn’t tackle the gender stereotypes that exist. We know that there’s an enormous assumption that it’s women who will do that caring role, and everything tells us that we should be the one that takes time off and looks after the baby.
“So, when men go to their employer and say ‘I want to take time out to care for my own offspring,’ it’s not permitted in their job and so they face really severe discrimination in the workplace.”
For some women, breastfeeding is a key consideration when it comes to deciding when and whether they can go back to work and the logistics of going back to employment has affected Grace’s own approach to motherhood and has been a significant factor in advocating for combination feeding.
“A big part of that is my job because I need to go back to work,” she says. “Were it not for money or for my career, I do think I’d be much bigger on breastfeeding, and I’d be like ‘no, why would I do the alternative?’ But, honestly, I don’t see it as an option.”
Drawing attention to figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that by the time a woman’s child is 12-years-old, her hourly pay rate is 33% behind a man’s, Fliss asks what can be done to stop women from suffering financially after having a child.
Joeli explains: “What we really need is legislative change. We need to government to really care about this and step in and do stuff. To be prepared to experiment. To be prepared to be radical. To be prepared to spend some money on stuff that will really make a difference to gender equality.”
“Having an expensive childcare system is a way of oppressing women. It keeps us in our homes. It stops us from being able to work. It stops us from being able to earn our own income. It’s the anti-feminist action of our government.”
In the meantime, to prevent women from suffering unnecessarily, there are things that we can all do on an everyday level in order to evoke societal change. Whether it’s reading on the subject as a way of being able to engage in debates about pay discrimination, talking to friends and family about their attitudes on women’s role in society or modelling good behaviour in your household, change is possible, and motherhood doesn’t have to rob women of their financial independence.
Been thinking about your fertility? Or perhaps you’re pregnant and worried about what happens next in your career? Stylist’s new franchise, Baby On The Brain, is here to answer all your motherhood questions.
This new digital space will be filled with discussions from different women airing their thoughts on motherhood, or the considerations around motherhood. But you won’t find information about the practicalities of sleep or feeding on Baby on the Brain. And this series is not about birth, either. This space is all about you, as women.