I’m writing this as my two-year-old daughter is asleep next door with a temperature, having just negotiated with my husband who can take care of her and when around our work meetings. When I started working in public affairs the words “credit crunch” were just appearing in the Financial Times and I worked for two male former Special Advisers. I distinctly remember having the thought “is this a realistic career long term for a woman? Or is this something I can do to indulge my interests before doing a real job?” One reason this thought occurred was because I always knew I wanted to be a mother and I didn’t know any in the industry. To be fair, I didn’t really know anyone in the industry then! But it was an important thought. It’s difficult to see your future self when you can’t see any role models.
In my next role I was hired by a man as the woman who led the agency was on maternity leave with her second child. This impressed me. She was leading an agency and a mother! I’ve actually worked for women the majority of my time in public affairs. This makes sense, the PRCA in 2016 found that 64% of the PR and Communications workforce was women1. Healthcare does seem to lend itself to having more women in it and 49% of the global life sciences workforce is women2.
What can’t be denied is that many women seem to disappear from the career ladder around the same time as women become mothers. I had my daughter over two years ago and had a good experience with my employer and felt supported. I was clear from the beginning I had every intention of returning, full time, within a year.
“Looking back, I had very genuine concerns about being put on the “mummy track”; defined as low pay and low career prospects once a woman has had a baby.”
The Guardian found “before they have children, the average hourly wage for female workers is 91% of the male average but declines to 67% for working mothers juggling jobs and childcare”3.
Public affairs is intellectually challenging, hard work. In an agency you have multiple clients with competing demands. In healthcare you are often working on projects which directly impact people’s day to day wellbeing. That’s why it’s an interesting, highly competitive sector. It’s also why keeping mothers in our workforce is important. The pandemic has shone a light on how much parents juggle to keep the family show on the road but research by campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed found 57% of working mums believe that managing childcare during Covid19 has damaged their career prospects4.
Women, including mothers, are an important part of the diversity we all need in our workforce. They bring a different perspective and understanding to our work in healthcare, particularly as they have ample experience of our health service. This International Women’s Day, I pledge to make sure the women coming up in our industry see this as a long term career choice, where you can be a mother and rise up to a senior position of leadership. After all, without mothers, none of us would be here.