Every woman’s experience of returning to work after having a baby is unique to her. But there’s no doubt that social norms, parental leave laws and the attitudes of employers play a role too.
We take a snapshot of maternity practices on four continents, and how they affect women juggling careers with new motherhood.
A snapshot: India’s maternity laws allow working women three months paid leave and job protection, but between 2008 and 2012, labour courts received more than 900 complaints of denial of these benefits by employers. A survey of women working in Delhi found that only 18-34% of married women return to work post baby. Reasons cited were India’s traditional expectations of women as mothers and homemakers (only 27% of adult females have a job overall), few flexible working opportunities and a lack of crèche facilities
Ashma Zaveri, based at a financial institution in Mumbai, returned to work after a six-month maternity leave.
“Initially, it was tough. I missed not being around my daughter. I may not have been there for the first time she began to crawl or took her first steps. But [now] when she sees me heading to office, she says she is going to grow up and work too. That is really nice.
“My mother-in-law was very supportive when I wanted to head back to work after having a daughter. I opted for flexible hours at work for six months after I got back. Though I had to clock in eight hours, I could take breaks in between and change my entry and exit time.”
A snapshot: A recent study conducted in the US – one of the few countries with no mandated maternity leave - suggests that six in 10 mothers find readjusting to the workplace challenging, with an average of 3.8 months required to get back into the swing of things. Only around 12% of Americans have access to paid parental leave through their organisations’ benefits system – a factor which leads to 25% of women returning to work just ten days post partum, and a high drop out rate; about 43% of women with children voluntarily leave work at some point in their careers. The challenge of juggling work and home-life is the key reason for 61%.
“I don’t get paid incredibly well, but I love what I do. I think it’s good for kids to see both of their parents working.”
Jen, urban planner and mother of two
“I felt huge guilt when I was a stay-at-home mother, for not using my education, for not being out there.”
Lisa, federal policy analyst and mother of two
“In an ideal world, I’d teach half of my students, for half of the time, but I carry the household’s health insurance so that’s not feasible right now.”
Rita, public school teacher and mother of a preschool daughter
Source: What Moms Choose: The Working Mother Report (Ernst & Young for the Working Mother Research Institute: 2011)
A snapshot: Many mothers around the world report discrimination, feeling side-lined and devalued when returning to work post partum. But a survey found that New Zealand might be one of the world leaders when it comes to employers valuing the contributions made by new mums: 75% of employers there say they “value the experience and skills of mothers coming back to work after having children” - the highest result of any country in the survey. Paid parental leave in New Zealand has recently increased to 18 weeks, though this is something which many women feel still isn’t enough: in a study, the majority of mothers cited one year as the ideal amount of time they’d like to take off. In reality, 37% return within nine months, with most of those (71%) saying, “needing the money” was the deciding factor. Almost half (46%), however, also said they enjoy working and wanted to return to paid employment.
Anne Casey, a marketing consultant and mother of three children, says returning mothers bring a “focus” to their work that makes them valuable to employers.
“When you're a returning mother you have to juggle everything. You know you have only so many hours to work, so your output is higher. There's a lot less chitchat around the coffee machine.
“It's a two-way street. Mothers want a certain lifestyle and when companies provide that it's not taken for granted.”
Photographer Greg Bowker took six months’ parental leave to allow his wife Sarah to return to work three months after giving birth.
“[My wife] is at a very exciting time in her career, so we felt it was a great opportunity for me as a first-time dad to step in to be Hugo's primary caregiver and to run the house for a while. Financially it was a fairly straightforward option also and we had budgeted for us to share parental leave once Hugo arrived. We used the paid parental leave, our respective salaries as well as savings to cover the household dropping to one income.
“The first few weeks at home with Hugo were a hard learning curve for all of us. Three months into my tour of duty, we've both learned a lot about each other and that being a parent is hard and very rewarding work.
“Although it is becoming increasingly common for fathers to share parental leave, I have encountered an element of gender bias while I have been on leave. I will return to work when Hugo is 10 months old.”
A snapshot: Nearly 78% of women in Sweden have a job – the highest level in the European Union. The state guarantees subsidised day care from 12 months and current parental laws allow 16 months of parental leave, which can be taken by either parent at any time up until the child is eight years of age. Despite this, 75% of it is still claimed by mothers (down from 99.5% when it was first introduced in 1974). It is, however, becoming more and more common for men to take time off work, giving rise to the term ‘Latte Pappas’, to describe the men who meet with fellow new dads in cafes during their leave. The monthly magazine Pappa has been published since 2011 and targets “the man who aims to invest time in his children, his relationships and his career”.
Maria Klytseroff is a part-time care assistant for people with learning difficulties. She is a shift worker so her children spend about two or three nights a week at a preschool, described as “more likely a homely apartment than an education centre”. After their sleep-in, the children are taken by staff to a nearby day care centre while their mother sleeps off her night shift. Under Sweden’s affordable childcare laws, Maria pays around $112/£75 per month in fees.
“At first it was very hard to take my kids to sleep somewhere else and my heart was aching. I am a single mum and I wanted to go back to my job, which is at night.
“The children soon got used to it, they have friends and they adore the workers who look after them. I have travelled a lot, so I know that I am lucky compared to people in other countries.”
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