Where have all the women gone?

I knew there was a problem with the corporate world when I attended a tax update a couple of years back and there was a disproportionate number of women in attendance. Not only was the mix of attendees 75% male and 25% female, there seemed to be a huge age gap in the women in attendance, quite literally all the women were either under 30 or over 50. So it made me question, what happened to all the women in between?

Most data released indicates that there is actually a higher number of women than men graduating from university with business, accounting and law degrees. Further to this, there is always strong female representation during graduate intake at large professional service firms. However the stats also indicate that there is a decline in the number of females over 30 and in senior roles – directors and partners, at these same firms. So where do all of these female graduates go?

My guess? Women aren’t in these roles because they make one fatal career decision, usually when in their 30s and 40s, they have children. I don’t use fatal in an attacking manner, I use fatal, because for some reason, once you have a child employers view you differently, usually as a burden. A star employee suddenly becomes a hassle because they may need some flexibility. There you go, I said it, flexibility. As soon as this word is uttered by a female employee returning from maternity leave to a professional services environment, she may as well hammer the nails into her careers coffin. Think I’m being too dramatic? I don’t, I have seen one to many incredibly talented women, be relegated to part time work in book keeping, accounts payable and accounts receivable roles, for which they are far too experienced and qualified for. That’s not to say these are lesser roles, it’s more that many of the women that end up in these roles aren’t there by choice. The main reason for this, is in many cases these roles offer part time hours and more flexibility for a woman with children. So just because you have a child, suddenly all of those years of study and experience in a corporate environment count for nothing.

It’s so much easier for an employer to just have a male in a role that was previously held by a female returning from maternity leave, because they won’t need flexibility and heaven forbid, they need something on a day this returning female employee isn’t in the office. The real issue here is that attitudes towards women returning from maternity leave are all wrong, they are in many cases viewed as a burden on the business, because those in the business aren’t willing to change their ways and try to be accommodating. Now I’m not suggesting extreme changes in business practise, it’s more about being organised, for example there is no need to schedule meetings on the days she isn’t in the office (I have seen this happen far too many times) and it’s really not hard to think ahead, eg if there is a looming deadline plan ahead, don’t dump it on her at the last minute. Now I do understand that it is sometimes difficult when genuinely urgent issues suddenly pop up and need to be addressed, in this case flexibility may be needed on the part of the employee, however I do believe that any woman returning to that kind of work environment is already aware and prepared for this. I have come out of work environment, and I truly believe that for the most part all it takes is better organisation by the people around this working mum, but sadly for many people, they would rather not take this step and just have someone there that doesn’t require flexibility.

I will be returning to a senior management role from maternity leave early next year and I must admit, I am incredibly concerned about what I will find. The signs to date are not great and I have a real fear that I’ll be looking for a new job later in the year, not because I want to, but because I’ve been pushed out and left with no other choice. I worked incredibly hard and gave up a lot to get to where I am in my career, by the looks of it, all of that was forgotten the minute I announced I was pregnant. What was one the most exciting times in my life was also one of the most fearful because I know how pregnancy is often perceived in a professional environment. Anyone that wants to say that discrimination in the workplace doesn’t exist, let me tell you it is rife and I there is a real possibility that I, like so many others could become a victim of it. In this day and age I am truly amazed that thing like this can still happen.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

2 thoughts on “Where have all the women gone?

  1. Whilst I was not 'professional, professional' I too was discrimamted against as I wanted to go part time on my return to work after having a baby (I worked in customer service for a national retail company.). In the end, 6 months after I went back 4 days per week I quit. The discrimination was rife and what was worse was WOMEN who were mothers, were the worse ones! They were pushing the needs of the business of the needs of my child, wanting me to work longer or full time. Fair enough but it just amazes me that working mothers don't tend to support other working mothers!
    I now work in a cafe 3-4 days a week and you know what I'm happy. Happy that I'm not a target, and that I'm safe. Soon I'll eventually get a real job but for now my happiness is better than being miserable.


  2. I couldn't agree more Kat and apologies I shouldn't have generalised about professional women, because you're right, it happens in all lines of work. It amazes me how women, especially other mothers don't support each other, you're right, the saddest part is they tend to be the most critical of other working mums. Maybe if women change their own attitudes towards other women, we may actually start seeing some reduction in the level of discrimination.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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