Driving positive solutions to workplace challenges faced by career mums

Ardern ‘career or family’ debate offers prime opportunity


New Zealand has much to gain from the ‘career or family’ debate that muscled in on Jacinda Ardern’s appointment as leader of the Labout party.

And no, it is not because our voting preferences should hinge on whether Ardern might take time out to have a baby. And it certainly is not because she needs to advise New Zealand of her fertility plans.

The emergence of Ardern as the Leader of the Opposition, and the knee jerk reactions that followed, has put a spotlight on a challenge that women face on a daily basis: career or family. It has brought to the fore the narrow views and perceptions – whether conscious or subconscious – that create these challenges.

New Zealand has for long pursued gender equality. We led the world in allowing women to vote. But our progress in recent years has been at best mediocre. We have an unexplainable gender pay gap. We are not making sustainable headway in increasing the number of women in senior roles, governance nor politics. The prospects of step-change, until now, have looked pretty average.

But Ardern has invoked a welcome twist to that discussion. One that has long been a taboo subject – until that is, our country has seemingly become “at risk” of being sidelined to a newborn. The ‘career or family’ debate is probably the most crucial factor in gender equality discussions, and the least talked about. Unless we start to talk more openly about the challenges faced by women, and start to turn our views into positive action, we will continue to meet roadblocks with workplace gender equality.

Come 23 September, whether Ardern gets New Zealand’s vote or not, she will have created a healthy stir. She will have offered us an out from the gender equality lull we are in.

We can and should step up to this opportunity. By thinking beyond the perceived inconvenience of an employee having children, and by looking more broadly at the importance of getting behind women in the workplace, we will all benefit – men, women, children, businesses, our economy, and our future.

Our economy will never be at a loss because of the inconveniences of parenting, but it could well be at a loss because of ignorance and inaction. This is a prime time for businesses to review their policies on workplace gender equality, to review their support for mothers in the workplace, and to make their actions heard.

CareerMum offers key considerations for businesses looking to step up to this opportunity.

A few facts about mothers in the workplace:

As at the end of June 2014, 28 percent of mothers* (close to 132,000) were not in the workforce. That is, they were neither employed – which would include those on parental leave – nor unemployed.

Of those in the workforce:

  • Forty-four percent of mothers with children under 14 worked part time (less than 30 hours per week)
  • Thirty percent of mothers with children aged 14 or over, worked part-time. (Source: Statistics New Zealand).

According to a 2017 study by PWC, “some 76 percent of professional women on a career break want to return to work. Yet 3 in 5 highly skilled and qualified returning professional women could end up in lower-skilled, and as a result, lower-paid jobs.”

The Human Right’s Commission advises that:

“Employers should avoid questions relating to pregnancy, proposed pregnancy, contraception or family planning, or parenthood.These types of questions risk breaching the Act as they could be seen as indicating an intention to employ, or not employ, applicants based on whether they’re responsible for children or not.”

CareerMum offers fresh, New Zealand focused perspectives on the topic of gender equality, and aspires to improve the working landscape for career mums. www.careermum.co.nz

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