We go through most of our twenties without having to explain plans for our uteruses. Then 30 starts to loom and suddenly our bodies affect not only conversation around the dinner table (‘any plans for a baby?’), but future hiring prospects. If you’re childless and in your late twenties to mid thirties, working mum stereotypes can impact your career – whether or not you want kids.
Some men assume all women are mothers
Harvard Business Review (HBR) worked with a global firm to investigate why more women weren’t in senior positions at the company. Data revealed long hours which impact family life and mothers taking accommodations, influenced the lack of women in senior roles. Interestingly, childless women fair no better in gaining promotions.
During HBR interviews at the firm, they noticed men commonly assumed ‘all women were mothers.’ As mothers are stigmatised by the idea that men are dedicated to their careers while women prioritise family, childless women can face the same pigeonhole.
The motherhood penalty
With so many women becoming female activists (retweeting our support for Greta Thunberg counts, right?), you’d assume social media would have ended career mum stigma by now. At least some type of movement such as #MeToo and period poverty. Covid-19 highlighted the UK’s gender working gap – and I’m not just talking pay.
The Guardian published results from a survey suggesting more mothers than fathers needed to take unpaid time off work. The survey also revealed more fathers felt they had the flexibility to work from home. During the pandemic, studies consistently show women across Europe and the US have carried the burden of childcare and housework, despite earning the same as their male partners.
Back in 2017, Medical News Today looked at research analysing family relationships. Led by Dr. Kamp Dush, him and his team saw that women spent more time doing housework at the weekend while men engaged in leisure.
Fathers receive praise for helping out at home
Isn’t there a halo surrounding men who dedicate time to looking after their kids? I’ve heard friends coo and sigh at celebrity dads playing with their children at the park or pushing their baby in a stroller. ‘He looks like such a good hands-on dad’. I haven’t heard this line with mothers before. Mostly, they’re simply being mums.
Men receive a “fatherhood premium”. According to The Atlantic, men are portrayed positively for requesting work flexibility to help out at home. Women opting to do the same are often perceived as likely to provide less. This goes back to the belief that men are ‘breadwinners’ who have the ambition to reach their job goals. While women, (the ‘caregivers’) are more dedicated to their family. And these old-fashioned working mum stereotypes directly impact childless women who can be painted with the same caregiver brush.
An IZA study described in publication Quartz, supports this theory. The findings show employers were less likely to call back married and childless women in their 30s seeking part-time work. As Quartz notes, this research suggests women deal with a “motherhood penalty” even when they don’t have children or aren’t planning to.
The stigma linked to childfree women
As well the motherhood gender discrimination, single and childfree women have the added stigma of not needing time away from work – as you know, you can’t have a life if you don’t have a husband or child. What on earth do women do without these people?
In a previous job, it was the single women like me, expected to agree first to any overtime. Vacations weren’t considered a priority and last-minute changes to our schedules became a given. As stated in The Huffington Post, some people (including many women) believe married couples and parents have more important tasks than single individuals who have the luxury of less hectic schedules. Not forgetting, the stigma of not wanting children in the first place. Managers can assume it’s a given that any woman would want a baby. If mothers are linked to family commitments, single women may be tied to overworking until it’s presumed they want to prepare for pregnancy.
With the media publishing unbalanced statistics between genders during Covid, there is a sense more change will begin to happen. Managers should ensure equal time-off is available to everyone and mothers could discuss more with their partners how to share childcare and house duties. If we could remove the 50’s ideals of men working and women cleaning, support mothers and fathers when they choose to take time away from the office to take care of home life, and work on editing the notion that women won’t put their careers first, childless women can be less affected by working mum stereotypes.