I’ve been job hunting for a couple of months now.  And I’ve become convinced of one thing – Australian employers as a whole don’t value motherhood.  Oh they say they do, but when push comes to shove, they’re not prepared to offer work conditions that work for Australian mums.

I always thought that when I had a baby I would return to work after a year.  That wasn’t possible for me because the part-time job I had enjoyed before giving birth was scaled up to become almost full-time.  I wasn’t interested in working full-time while my daughter was so young.

Now a year and a half later, I’m finding most private employers aren’t interested in employing part-time workers.  They all want full-time.  They want passionate, committed people, but don’t seem to realise that these passionate committed women are also passionate about being good mothers.  Most Mums of young kids don’t want to work full-time.  So as a consequence they don’t work or they work in jobs that are way below their skill-level or they work full-time and torture themselves with guilt because their kids spend their entire lives in day-care.  Women who have a willing grandparent nearby to help with childcare are probably the exception.

OK so maybe that sounds a bit extreme.  But I think there’s something else going on here.  Employers, particularly smaller ones, don’t like dealing with the issue of maternity leave.  I actually know of a case some years ago where two women of equal merit applied for the same job.  One was married.  One was single.  If anything, the married woman was the stronger applicant.  But the employer chose the single woman, because they wouldn’t have to worry about her going off on maternity leave.  It’s probably easier to get a job if you’re an axe-murderer on parole than if you’re a married woman of child-bearing age who already has one child.  The assumption is that you’ll just be popping out another baby any minute.  I’ve decided to take any reference to ‘Maternity Leave’ off my resume.  I’d rather let them assume I spent the year in gaol – it’d probably improve my chances.

The most surprising job interview I had recently was with a parenting magazine.  They actually wanted to employ a Mum with young kids, but weren’t willing to consider part-time, job-share or flexible employment.  In fact, they said the role was going to be really full-on.  How many devoted mothers of babies and toddlers, who are passionate about writing on the subject of parenting, want to work in a high-stress job with long hours so they never see their babies?

I realise it’s harder for the employer to employ two part-time people than it is to employ one person full-time.  It’s another lot of paperwork, another lot of superannuation, another name for the CEO to remember, another head to pay for at the Christmas party.  And maybe it’s not their responsibility to worry about the working mums of this world.  But whose responsibility is it?  And how is it ever going to change?

Last night I told a friend about how hard it was to find a decent part-time job.  She joked that her husband always tells her to get a job packing shelves at night.  The implication was that if you really want a job you should just get one doing anything.  But should women with university education, and fifteen plus years of experience really have to consider packing shelves just because Australian employers don’t value women’s unpaid contribution to society?

And it’s not just mothers of young children who find themselves in this predicament.  I know of another woman who’s just become a grandmother for the first time, who also wants to work 2 – 3 days a week.  This is because she values the contribution she makes to her grown-up family, her husband, her grandchildren and wants a good work/life balance.  Again, she’s finding it really hard to get work because everybody wants a minimum of 35 hours a week.  Is that the kind of society we want?  One where grandmothers don’t have time to spend with their grandchildren?  Where those people who give back most to society can’t find paid employment?  And not only that, where employers are missing out on a whole generation of talented, hardworking and highly skilled women because they won’t consider part-time, flexible working arrangements.   I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read about women trying to find a work/life balance, but I still have no idea how to achieve it.  I do know women who are teachers and nurses who manage to find part-time work, but maybe its easier for them because these industries are dominated by women – they’ve simply had to adapt to a workforce of mothers.  In media, I can honestly say I’ve only seen one part-time job advertised in the last six months.  I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking Dad’s go to work and Mum’s stay at home.  But I also don’t want to miss out on the precious years while she’s young.  So the search for part-time work continues, however frustrating it might be.  So… know anyone who’s looking for good shelf-packers?

How old were your kids when you returned to work?  Since having a baby, have you been happy with the amount and quality of paid work you’ve undertaken?  Do you feel that your skills and experience are valued in the workforce?  How have you achieved a work/life balance since becoming a parent?

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