Article - The true cost of motherhood?

January 2020 – RPfT Managing Partner Katerina Kerr attended a talk as part of the Festival of Social Science entitled ‘What works for women’s careers?’.  Here she shares some of the data from that talk, and the thoughts it provoked for her.

I’m a managing partner of a drama based training company and I also have a young family. Our business was flexible enough to allow me to have a phased return to work after maternity leave and I now work 4 days a week. Together with my two business partners and our brilliant team, we use drama based training to explore behaviours, change mindsets and enhance relationships at work.

The talk I’m reflecting on in this article – ‘What works for women’s careers?’ – was presented by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership. It formed part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s ‘Festival of Social Science’ and was held at King’s College London at the end of last year. It proved to be a vital exposé of the barriers women still face in terms of career progression. Given my own experience as a working mother,  I was interested in the topic for myself personally and for our business. I was also curious in case there were insights I could take back to my clients and their work in the training and learning arena.To give some context – the GIWL had been commissioned by the Government Equalities Office to carry out an evidence review. You can find a helpful summary of the research they subsequently published, entitled ‘Women’s Progression in the Workplace’, here.

During the talk itself, Pilita Clark, Professor Rosie Campbell, Yasmine Chinwala and Kate Glazebrook made a dynamic, inspiring panel. Afterwards GIWL kindly shared with me the slide deck that was used, from which you’ll see a few extracts below.

There were three key points that stood out for me. Firstly, progress on gender equality is much slower than I had expected. This image demonstrates how little improvement was made from 2007 to 2017. The percentage of women in senior management positions increased by just 1% during that decade.

Secondly, the research looks in some detail at how the gender pay gap responds to certain life events, like having your first child. I was alarmed at how much choosing to have a baby still impacts women’s career progression – you can see the effect it has on the gender pay gap in this chart below. When you control for age, religion and education, the percentage of the gender wage gap increases greatly after you have a baby. Before the birth of your first child the gap is at around 12%, but afterwards, we see it climbs to around 27-30%.

Finally, the slide below starkly demonstrates wage inequality. In a culture where for many people higher pay = higher status, how does the gender hierarchy created by pay inequality affect how we feel about others? And (more importantly perhaps) how does it affect how we feel about ourselves? As part of the drama based training my business delivers, we often talk about status being defined by behaviour, but this research reminded me that aspects of our status can be dictated by factors outside of our control, however uncomfortable that is. Wage equality isn’t just about money, it’s qualitative as well.  It’s about how we value women and their contribution.

At first glance the obvious discrepancies in hourly wage are between men and women in each educational category.  Look closer though and this data indicates that a man with GCSE’s is likely to be paid more than a woman who has A-Level qualifications.  In the same vein, according to this data, a man with A Levels is likely to command a similar wage to a woman who is educated to degree level.

In this article I’ve given a brief summary of the points raised by GIWL’s research relating to the current picture of gender equality in the workplace. Naturally, these statistics lead us to questions about how we can accelerate the rate of change. The report does identify some interventions that will help us to overcome the barriers to women’s career progression and I will look at these in a future post.