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Motherhood ‘has driven 250,000 women out of jobs’

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About a quarter of a million mothers with young children have left their jobs because of difficulties with balancing work and childcare, according to a report by an equal rights charity that calls for the end of the “motherhood penalty”.

This juggling act, as well as the punitive cost, has led more than 249,124 working mothers of children aged four or under to leave their employer, according to the Fawcett Society.

A lack of flexible working arrangements and affordable childcare combined with “outdated and toxic attitudes around motherhood” were holding women back, said its chief executive, Jemima Olchawski.

Its survey of 3,000 working parents of preschoolers, conducted jointly with the recruitment firm Totaljobs, revealed that one in five working mothers had considered leaving their job because of the difficulties of balancing work and childcare. One in 10 had handed in their notice because of this, rising to 13% of single mothers.

It added that too many women are stuck in roles that were below their capabilities, missing out on opportunities to progress their careers, and essentially consigning them to the “mummy track” for ever, it adds.

Olchawski said it “isn’t good enough to have supportive policies on paper. Businesses need to make those a reality in the workplace and create genuinely family-friendly cultures.”

With two-fifths of working mothers confessing to having turned down a promotion or career development opportunity owing to concerns that it would not fit in with their childcare arrangements, Olchawski said businesses and government needed to prioritise “ending the motherhood penalty by properly supporting women to balance their work and caring responsibilities. The UK simply cannot afford to let these talents go to waste.”

Alongside the mothers exiting the workforce, the poll also revealed that three out of four working parents have had to take unpaid leave becuase of childcare responsibilities, with higher rates for women from non-white backgrounds and single mothers.

Jane Lorigan, the chief executive of Totaljobs, pointed to critical labour shortages in the economy and warned that the pressures of childcare could ultimately have a longer-term impact on an ever-shrinking workforce.

“There are more mothers in the workplace than ever before, and businesses need to create an environment where they can flourish,” said Lorigan. “Not only do working parents need more support, but we need to ensure this support extends to the people who need it the most.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are delivering the single biggest investment in childcare in England’s history, providing 30 hours a week for working parents from nine months old up to when they start school, all backed by £8bn a year once fully rolled out.

“Our flexible working bill requires employers to consider any requests and provide a reason before rejection, and we have launched a call for evidence to increase understanding of the role of informal flexible working in supporting employees, including parents.”

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