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The Motherhood Penalty, The Pay Gap, and the Gap in the Narrative.

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Yay! Gender pay gap between full time workers under 40 is almost closed! That’s that then, just wait til everyone who is older retires, what’s that, a mere 25 years or so, and then we will have the Equal Pay we were promised 50 years go! WOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! OR NOT.

Babes, it’s far from the full story, and yet, after catching that little snippet of info doing the rounds over the weekend, I can imagine many a woman around the country, trying to advocate for herself and others over Xmas Dinner, and being closed down with it.

The pay gap is the kind of conversation where women experience societal gaslighting. They KNOW it’s not fair, but they find themselves presented with various examples of how it ‘definitely is’ and how it’s basically women’s choices that lead them to be disadvantaged etc. They often get frustrated, bewildered, and stop complaining about it.

If you’d rather watch the video version of this, you can do so here on Facebook, or here on instagram.

What’s the truth of it then?

True economic equity between men and women is a LONG WAY OFF. Even more so specifically for BAME women. And single mothers.

The mean gender pay gap sits at around 11.5%.

But isn’t that because women choose to go off and have babies, etc?

This is the argument we will often be presented with when we have the audacity to complain about the gender pay gap. People will say things like, “that man has worked full time for 10 years, during which time, that women has had 2 years of time off for maternity leave,” (TIME OFF, HAAAAAA), “and did 4 years part time. OF COURSE he should be paid more, he has more experience. That was her choice.”

Was it though? And was it really his, either? (More on that second Q in a bit)

Honestly, why would anyone willingly choose to effectively commit to a lifelong (yes I said lifelong) pay cut?

Some stats for you to pop in your homemade crackers for the Xmas Dinner Table:

  • Working mothers earn nearly 20% less than working fathers 10 YEARS after the first child was born (and when I say working- obviously ALL parents are working, but this refers to paid work outside the home. Women do 60% more unpaid work in the home).
  • Fathers who work full time earn 20% more then men without children, whereas mothers who work full time earn 7% less than women without children.
  • Part time parents have only a 21% chance of promotion in the next 3 years, vs full time parents having a 45% chance. (Most of the parents who work part time are women).

I don’t have stats for this, but anecdotally, part time roles are generally not as well paid as full time roles, and are often unavailable at more senior levels. Women are also more likely to shorten their commutes after becoming parents, to juggle childcare, limiting their options further.

All of this contributes to the PENSION GAP, something Rachel at Willow Tree Financial Service introduced me to.

Plus there’s the PLAY GAP. We have less money for play. And less time and energy- because women do the majority of the unpaid labour of childcare, household work, and caring for relatives of all ages. Plus, our entire lives we are told that good women and pleasure don’t mix, but that’s a bigger topic for another time. (You can gain some insights here).

You might imagine men in heterosexual relationships would be keen for their partners to earn more- perhaps to take some pressure off the household, or because they recognise the impact on women’s wellbeing of being constantly undervalued. Sadly, it ain’t so.

Research quoted in The Sunday Times last week revealed that men feel a psychological kick when the pay gap within their households increases in their favour. Yep. Women, *shockingly*, do not feel that same delight at out earning their male partners.

Now, whilst there’s a big part of me that wants to roll my eyes and slow clap these fellas, there’s another part of me that knows that shaming their responses is unkind and unhelpful.

Why do men experience this? Because they are as conditioned as we are. Whilst we ‘should’ be prioritising caring for others, they ‘should’ be prioritising providing economically.

Week in, week out, I hear from women in my community about how much her male partner hates his job, but stays in it because he feels the burden of providing sits with him. No matter what. Even though he might be miserable, disconnected, depressed even, the idea that a good man brings home the bacon is as ingrained as the one that a good woman is selfless.

It’s a massively complex problem we find ourselves with.

When I started talking about this on instagram, I received a message saying (paraphrasing…), ” I really resented ‘having to’ give up my career for motherhood, because of prohibitive childcare costs, lack of flexibility, etc. Now I see it as a blessing, because I wouldn’t have found the courage to walk away from a secure job to do something I love. 5 years on I do something I enjoy, and am beginning to earn decent money, but that’s a lot of lost income, benefits, pension contributions, etc. Meanwhile, my partner works all the hours in an unfulfilling job to make ends meet.”

I regularly hear from women that they feel desperately guilty that their partners are ‘stuck’ and how it creates resentment in their relationship. These men wish for more time with their children, or more fulfilling work, but the drive to provide takes over everything.

This is what we’ve gotta get our heads round- men and women resenting each other, sometimes poisonously so, over the relative freedoms and privileges we enjoy and endure is getting us nowhere. It’s not you vs him. It needs to be the two of you, all of us together vs a system that keeps us separate from the more balanced lives we deserve.

We need better paternity leave, and to challenge the taboo of taking it. We need to challenge gender stereotypes in all industries, and in the home. We need better childcare options.

But for now, we need courageous, compassionate conversations.

Please- have the audacity to talk about this. That sense that you have that it’s not fair, trust it. We can’t make it right overnight, but if you are in a heterosexual relationship, you might be surprised how a measured and balanced chat about this in your own home could facilitate some connection at a time when most of us are exhausted by division. And opening up space to air what’s not working could provide the opportunity to co-create ideas to make things even slightly better for you both.

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