Commentary: Supporting mothers at work is also about individual choices


SINGAPORE: After a number of years engaged on the information desk, I used to be requested to contemplate taking up the function of enhancing a parenting journal. I went for the interview and obtained the job.

But two months later, I discovered I used to be pregnant with my second youngster. Which would imply that simply 5 months into my new function, I might give beginning and go on maternity go away.

I rang the overall supervisor and informed him I used to be pregnant and would perceive if he wished to search for another person, seeing how a serious job of revamping the journal could also be disrupted with an editor on maternity go away.

His response each startled and amazed me. “The majority of my staff are women. And pregnancy is part and parcel of life. We will just arrange for someone to stand in while you are away,” he mentioned.

Thinking again now, I realise how highly effective one thing so simple as a “don’t worry, we will work around it” is. Like many ladies, I assumed that being pregnant, childbirth and mothering normally, had been impediments to work. Because they absorb numerous non-public time and psychological bandwidth, they have an effect on work, which is purported to be freed from any private impositions.

There’s ample analysis on what is termed a “motherhood penalty” – when girls have kids, there is an impression on their wages and profession trajectory. Compared to childless girls or males, mothers usually have to chop again hours, take prolonged day off, convert to part-time employment or cross up abroad postings and promotions as a result of it will imply much less time with household.

These cumulatively have an effect on how far they progress and the way a lot they earn in the long term in comparison with their male and childless girls counterparts.

There is a rising name, particularly towards the backdrop of falling fertility in Singapore, for employers to undertake a much more versatile method so girls can deal with each their work and household commitments with out having to decide on one over the opposite or worse, really feel responsible about their choices.

This is an enormous plank within the White Paper on Women’s Development launched on Monday (Mar 28). Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) needs to be a “workplace norm” and employers will likely be given a brand new set of pointers on what they’re and find out how to contemplate these requests pretty.


The onus is closely skewed in direction of employers to make sure they create the type of setting that permits for a girl to do each if she needs.

Over the years, the motion to strengthen and educate employers to not discriminate on grounds of gender or household obligations has grow to be extra sturdy, particularly with the organising of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).

Because the facility distinction is so huge between an worker and her firm, clear HR insurance policies and buildings are important in whether or not girls proceed to remain on of their roles and if industries proceed to retain their abilities and expertise. This is particularly pertinent when the feminine employment price in 2021 was at 75 per cent, up from 53 per cent in 1994 in keeping with knowledge given within the White Paper.

I’ve seen how some HR insurance policies have a direct impression on girls. For occasion, it was a typical apply to provide somebody a decrease band throughout value determinations as a result of she was away on maternity go away. I discovered this to be fairly perplexing.

If a girl’s absence didn’t have an effect on work outcomes – let’s say, no matter annual targets had been set for her had been fulfilled to an affordable diploma, there needs to be no distinction in how she was assessed with others in her cohort.

In reality, she needs to be valued much more for having efficiently saved a brand new human being alive whereas working.


While employers do have an outsized function to play in supporting motherhood and households normally, there have to be higher dialogue across the function of people too.

I’ve been in groups the place your entire group is made up of girls. In reality, at the journal I labored for, each single crew member was a girl, the bulk had been mothers and amongst us there have been simply seven kids underneath the age of 5 at the time.

And due to this distinctive make-up, not per week might go by with out somebody calling in to say they couldn’t are available as a result of a baby was sick. It was straightforward to select up the slack on most days but when a important member was out throughout peak manufacturing time, it meant another person needed to sacrifice private time to make sure timelines had been met. Or paid freelancers needed to fill in.

Having labored with girls, I’ve discovered that some mothers need conflicting issues and that may complicate issues at work. For occasion, some need completely no live-in assist in the case of elevating their kids.

So, they depend on childcare or babysitters whereas they work and in my expertise, this is considerably of a precarious existence. Without dependable assist, this path can create enormous stresses for fogeys – and employers consequently.

Kids get sick, babysitters faucet out, husbands should go on work associated journey for weeks. If the mum is carrying the psychological and bodily load of this caregiving and have to fulfill work calls for, it results in exhaustion. It is a lot more durable to give attention to work successfully.

Granted, this is complicated as a result of no household has the identical dynamics – some prize privateness over live-in assist, some can not afford home helpers, whereas others have to work as a result of full time mothering is simply not one thing they’ll do and are due to this fact pleased to outsource it virtually utterly.

When it comes right down to it, barring very distinctive circumstances when a severe sickness or surprising occasion involving kids occurs, all mother and father have to stability their work commitments with their household in the event that they select to do each.

In different phrases, they’ll’t have their cake and eat it too – some sacrifice will likely be obligatory to fulfill each targets.


The irony of my very own journey is that as my obligations grew, so did my guilt. After struggling for a spell, I made a decision I ought to do myself, my household and my employer a favour and select one factor and do it in addition to I might.

When I informed my boss I used to be quitting, she sighed and mentioned it was a waste. It did really feel like a “waste” however the subsequent seven years I spent taking up part-time work whereas elevating my boys had been good years and now that they’re grown, I can see the dividends in that call.

Yet I can’t assist however marvel if there have been extra radical choices obtainable again then – like utterly working from house, job sharing or perhaps a four-day work week and not using a cliff drop in wage and advantages, would I’ve stayed, particularly since I cherished what I did?

I could have, however 15 years in the past, they had been merely not on the desk.

The pandemic has been a present in a single sense – it confirmed employers that face time doesn’t equal productiveness. You don’t ever should see your staff however the work is carried out and in some instances, exceptionally effectively as a result of now, the shackles of commute and meandering conferences have been minimize clear off.

Employers will come underneath higher strain to search out methods to create correct buildings that prioritise flexibility for fogeys. It merely is probably the most logical factor to do to retain greater than half the workforce.

But it also means mother and father settle for there could also be some sacrifices on each ends of the stick in the event that they need to have kids and hold a satisfying profession going.

It could imply logging off at 4pm to are likely to kids and spend treasured time with them and logging on at 8pm to atone for work. It is solely potential (certainly fairly cheap) if we don’t hit our perfect targets on each counts.

I’ve seen working mothers really feel inordinately responsible when their kids don’t do effectively in main exams and marvel the place they went incorrect. The level is they didn’t. It was simply an end result of their selection.

If we settle for there will likely be some leakages and imperfect outcomes, all that’s left is to be trustworthy about it and talk them clearly with everybody.

Because while you select to do two huge issues, everybody should work to make sure that one doesn’t come at the expense of one other.

Crispina Robert is an editor at CNA Digital the place she oversees podcasts.

Commentary: Supporting mothers at work is also about individual choices

Crispina Robert

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