The topic of women in boardrooms has been on the agenda for some time, especially since the government set the target of at least 25 per cent female representation on FTSE 100 boards by 2015.
The reasoning behind these targets is justified. There's undoubtedly much to gain by having women in leadership roles, not least of all the skills and experience they bring to the table, so it's hard to understand why there is still a lack of equality in the higher end of our workforce.
We conducted two parts of research over recent months to better understand how this gap is affecting women throughout the country.
The first part looked at the obstacles women face when returning to work after having a baby. The most notable finding was the dramatic pay cut new mothers took after their child was born. In fact, the average mother was found to be earning £9,419 less per year. Furthermore, 70 per cent of new mothers said they were in jobs that they feel over-qualified for and which before they fell pregnant would have felt 'below them.'
These findings suggest that women are re-entering the workforce at much lower levels than they were previously and have been forced to take jobs for which they are overqualified. But why are so many women settling for less? The results of our second study suggest why.
Part two revealed that of 2,000 mothers, eight in ten spend the majority of their week on autopilot conducting the same chores in the same order. Consequently, this routine has led more than half of mothers to no longer feel confident or capable enough to re-join the workforce and take up the same level of responsibility as before they had children.
It's only natural that as our families grow our daily routines and priorities change but this doesn't necessarily mean that one's career should be negatively affected or sacrificed.
With Nick Clegg announcing the need for shared parenting responsibilities, it's evident that most women have more responsibility for raising their families ultimately giving up their career. While some mothers may make this choice, we need to ensure those who want to return to the work can do so with confidence.
Encouraging women back into the workforce sooner rather than later is surely the solution to this problem and employers - large and small - need to be the ones to own this responsibility.
Throughout every employee's working life there will come a time when they need to work in a more flexible way - this could be anything from raising a child to compassionate leave. It isn't just new mothers that need and benefit from working differently.
The good news is that advancements in digital technology have meant that our options have widened. Working a full working week but at hours that better support and fit round family life is achievable. No longer are people bound to the office desk or standard office hours.
With the cost of child care being one of the highest in Europe; organisations have to be more understanding and adaptable if they want strong retention rates and they want to ensure career growth from 'within.'
In Norway the shared responsibilities of parental care after a baby is born is working with many fathers actively taking three months paternity cover. Also 40 per cent of women sit on boards of directors and while this is enforced through quotas, there does seem to be a general acceptance that both parents can have careers that fit around young family life.
We need to ensure women feel confident that they can do both - be mothers and professionals. Women bring other skillsets to the table such as fantastic time management and multitasking skills from having more than one job, but two.
Mentoring programmes, flexible working, better communication and adaptable approaches to new ways of working have to be supported and implemented from the top in order to reduce barriers to create a more level playing field.
Quotas are a good starting point but this planned support needs to follow if we are going to meet the government's target by 2015 and if it's to be genuinely accepted that women can have it all - a career and a family life.
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