There’s a lot happening today. It’s International Women’s Day, Discover What Your Name Means Day, and we’re right in the middle of National Pie Week. Oh, and it’s the Spring Budget.
Mindful of at least two of these events, Theresa May has revealed a new £5 million fund to help mothers return to work after a long career break. Making the announcement on Mumsnet, the Prime Minister said: ‘Returnships are open to both men and women but we should acknowledge that, more often than not, it is women who give up their careers to devote themselves to motherhood, only to find the route back into employment closed off, the doors shut to them. This isn’t right, it isn’t fair and it doesn’t make economic sense.’
I applaud this extension of return to work schemes. I’m not a mother but, having watched friends and family return to the workplace after having children, I have some idea of how difficult and daunting it can be.
And it’s no surprise to learn that, according to a new survey commissioned by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), gender discrimination culminates when women take a career break to have a family. The research found that half of British adults believe that women receive fewer opportunities (such as promotion or pay rises at work) after returning from maternity leave than men in similar job roles. This sentiment is particularly prominent among women, with nearly two thirds believing there is less opportunity for progression for mothers going back to work.
The YouGov survey discovered that the perception women are at a disadvantage appears to be ingrained from a young age, with nearly half of 13 to 22-year-old females saying they will be paid less than a male doing the same job. Conversely, only 3 per cent of males the same age think their gender will negatively affect their salary. Indeed, these young men are already aware of the gender pay gap, with one in five believing they will earn more than women.
These are bleak statistics. But what’s the solution? RICS is keen to see more family-friendly policies in the workplace, such as flexible working hours. I agree this would help but, to be honest, I’m at a loss as to how to effectively tackle a seemingly intransigent problem. One can only hope that the government’s new £5 million fund will go some way to address the pay disparity – and give mothers returning to work some much-needed support.
Helen Nugent is Online Money Editor of The Spectator