As a working mother I get a little discouraged sometimes about how far women have supposedly come. Okay, we have a much better selection of clothes than our male counterparts, but women still appear to struggle in having equal opportunities in the workplace.
Here’s one surprising statistic, quoted in a London newspaper recently: London women are less likely to have a job in the capital than anywhere else in the UK. In the rest of the country, 66% of women are in work; the figure drops to 62.6% in London. You would think that London, the economic powerhouse of the UK, would be more progressive than that.
This eyebrow-raising percentage comes from an Office of National Statistics press release about female employment over the last 40 years. According to a mysterious government source, the smaller percentage of women working in London could be explained by the high-sky cost of childcare and also the fact that there are many single-parent families and ethnic minorities here.
The same release said that there are more women in work now than in the 1970s, which should come as little surprise. According to the ONS, 67% of women (16 to 64 years old) were in work; it was 53% in 1971.
Yet female graduates were still more likely to work in lower-skilled occupations than men and for less money. This is true of the UK and it’s certainly true of the United States.
If you thought America was making great strides in creating an equal workforce for men and women, think again. According to the US Census Bureau, the median earning for women still lags well below a man’s. It’s commonly referred to as the gender pay gap.
For 2010, the American governmental department published figures stating that the median income for full-time, year-round workers was $42,800 for men and $34,700 for women. I had to take this statistic from Wikipedia because I can’t access the US Census Bureau website, where the information appears in full. Blame the US government shutdown.
I can’t vouch for everyone else, but I do feel like as a woman and mother I’ve had to make some hard choices where my career is concerned. When I had my children I took all the time off and lost out on promotions and job opportunities. If my children get sick, I generally stay home. I’m the one who always leaves work early to pick them up. I’m the one who went part-time.
My career has suffered, no doubt about it. I don’t apply for challenging jobs because they might expect me to work long and anti-social hours. I fear taking a job that would leave me utterly depleted in the evenings. This is not because I don’t think I’m capable of doing something challenging, but because I’ve made a choice to prioritize my family. Financially, I need to work; having a nanny round the clock would negate that.
Now that I am 40, I also fear that I’ve spent too long working the same ‘easy’ job because it fitted around my life, and that people will wonder why I haven’t got further or pushed myself harder.
I can already hear the English Husband saying, ‘What about me? I juggle my life and my career, too, so that we share the burden.’ And he certainly does; he helps me a lot. But women in most households, even those who work, still disproportionately do most of the childcare and suffer the knock-on effects on their careers.
According to the World Health Organization, 16 million teenagers give birth every year. Every year! Imagine all those young women who perhaps never fully realize their potential.
What I would like is more equality for women (easier said than done, I realize); I want my female children to have better role models of their own sex. If I tell them that they can grow up to be anything they want, I’d like to believe it. I don’t always.
Gender discrimination plays out in many ways, some of them very unexpected. I think even my own children believe that my husband’s work is somehow more valuable than mine. Why? It’s small things. They will ask him about his day at work occasionally. But do I get asked? No. Do they even wonder? Never. Perhaps it’s because I don’t wear a suit and don’t exude the same sense of authority.
Maybe it’s even partly my fault because I have a very female habit of downplaying my achievements.
This is not a UK problem, but a worldwide one. If someone with my education and background still struggles to find well-paid, meaningful work that fits around their life and children, what hope is there for those who weren’t given the many opportunities I was?