I wasn’t ashamed of being a Mum. Until it was the reason i couldn’t get a job.
Discrimination against working Mums in the workplace exists in Australia and is happening every day. It does not matter that it is 2018, and the laws say that employees are to be treated equally, regardless of gender. When you are a mother, and you are either working or looking for work, there is a great chance that you have experienced some form of discrimination. It may be subtle, such as a crack from a coworker about leaving early to take care of a sick child. Or in my case, it is being treated as completely unemployable due to my having taken a year off work to be home with my son.
I have been working in the finance industry for ten years. After relocating from Melbourne to Brisbane after the birth of my son, I was not worried about finding employment when I got to Brisbane. I was looking for part time work, but I have built a good career for myself. I have experience, excellent references, qualifications and have never been short of job offers before. I consider myself to be an exemplary employee. So I was shocked when I started my job hunt, only to be knocked back again and again for employment over a four month period.
I have received some call backs from recruitment agencies and employers for jobs that I have applied for. I have had interviews, both over the phone and face to face. But due to my gap in employment of 12 months, I am always asked why I had that time off. I would never lie, I am open and honest about the fact that I had a child. I am not ashamed to be a Mother. But it is always then that the blinders would go up. You can almost feel the interviewer pulling back and retreating. Phone calls would come to a swift end. Body language would become very uncomfortable.
I came really close once to being offered a job twice. I was told once during the interview that I had the job. But then afterwards, another applicant was deemed more suitable. This may be the case. However the language used was that even though we had the same qualifications and a great rapport, the other applicant was more mature. The other employer said that although he was my pick, the board went with a different candidate. This was after he spent about 10 minutes during the interview explaining very uncomfortably that they are open to mothers at their workplace. Like that even needed to be said.
It is not just the silence that speaks volumes when you say that you have a child, that is the issue. It is the distinct lack of opportunity. Part time work is very hard to come by. Most part time opportunities are to work 25-30 hours a week spread over 4-5 days. With the cost of childcare being so steep, it would not be beneficial to my family to put my son into childcare almost every day at reduced hours. We would actually lose money.
There is lack of opportunity for job sharing, even with highly skilled workers in the same boat as me. One possible option is to work for the government. Where flexible work arrangement and job sharing is more common. However those jobs are like gold to come by. I was recently told that a job that I applied for, for a part time role in QLD Health, received over 1000 applicants. And if you are not already a government employee, your application just gets thrown out. This information came to me by a very senior member of QLD Health.
I did a lot of digging trying to make sense of my situation. I have found on the Australian Human Rights Commission website that one in two women have reported experiencing workplace discrimination as a result of their pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work. One in Two. Another one in five women indicated that they were made redundant, restructured, dismissed, or that their contract was not renewed.
On learning this, I took the topic and discussed at length with my partner, friends and family. I have been asked if I am just being too picky in the jobs that I apply for. That I should just apply and take a job that I am overqualified for in a completely different industry, just to be employed. My response is this. I place far too much value on my myself and career, than to take something that would not be a benefit to my progression or experience. I do not think that my husband (who has been a massive champion of mine by the way) would be told to do the same thing if he was to suddenly lose his job. My career is every bit as important as his. Why should I settle, just because I have a child? The law is supposed to be there to protect us against discrimination.
Other friends that I have discussed this with, also Mothers, have shared their stories of discrimination. A close friend has admitted that even though she has gone back to work part time, four days a week, she is expected to do the exact job she used to do in five days. Her day off is treated like a luxury instead of a contractual right. Another friend was told flat out by her employer that she had to return full time as the job did not lend itself to part time. She is expected to work long hours that were not part of her contract and to travel. She was told not to use her child as an excuse to do her job.
Stories such as this are far too familiar. I have seen firsthand at previous employments, colleagues roll their eyes when a Mum leaves work at 3pm even though it is part of her flexible work arrangements. Or be looked over for a promotion in favour of a male colleague. I have heard whispers from managers, both male and female, not to hire/promote her as she is just going to get pregnant. One friend had their job be completely changed while she was on maternity leave, with no communication at all. She was made to feel so incompetent on her return that she just quit. At a previous job, before I had a baby, I was told by a manager on my first day that they were reluctant to hire me as I am newly married and therefore they expected I would get pregnant in a short time. At the time, I did not fully comprehend how truly wrong this was and I brushed passed it.
My question is, why is this practice still considered acceptable? Why aren’t the laws protecting us? Why are we judged for having children or asked about our choices to have more children in the future? My husband did not get asked any questions about his role at work when he announced that he would become a father. Nobody asked if he would be taking time off or would be having more children later on. His being a father was not brought into question when he was offered a promotion. It is just presumed that any child or household duties would be down to me.
With a woman’s average weekly wage still 15.3% lower on average than a man, and women reportedly doing twice as many hours each day performing unpaid care work in comparison to men, more needs to be done. The new Child Care Subsidy that the current government has introduced as of 2 July will even further put women at risk of discrimination. With both parents having to be in the workforce or studying to receive any form of benefit towards child care, but fair work for women still not available, how is that going to affect the mental health and stability of Australian Mothers? It honestly scares me.
So what options am I faced with from here. Continue the job search in my chosen field of employment in the hopes that an employer will see my value. Perhaps spend money to retrain in a field that is considered more female friendly such as child care, teaching or nursing. Or stay home with my son until he goes to school and risk taking a longer gap from work and then going back full time. These aren’t great options. But they are all that I currently have. I deserve better. We deserve better.
If you have experienced workplace discrimination as a result of gender, you can find more information and help on the Human Rights Commission Website. And remember, you are not alone. Please reach out to friends, family or even me if you need to discuss how you are feeling. No woman should be made to feel inadequate as a result of discrimination.
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