Discover more from The Female Lead
These are the phrases working mums want to stop hearing
Insensitive comments from colleagues are harming working mothers, according to a new poll.
More than half (55%) of working mums want to change workplace lingo, as insensitive or ill-thought comments from colleagues can add to their challenges, new research has found.
Remarks by co-workers made towards working mums ranged from ‘she’s only part-time’ and ‘I forgot you leave early’, to ‘I wish I could have Fridays off’ and ‘I bet it feels like a break coming into the office’ – according to the survey of 1,000 working mothers commissioned by Maltesers, which has just launched its #MotherLover campaign to help lighten the load and encourage support for working mums.
The poll found 63% of working mums feel they need to work harder to prove themselves, and 46% say they need to convince co-workers that their change in hours doesn’t impact their output. Nearly two-thirds (63%) believe colleagues mean no harm when they make insensitive comments however, and 26% admit a co-worker has corrected themselves midway through saying something ill-informed to working parents.
“It’s no surprise many of these comments are about part-time work. There is a pervasive stigma that working part-time means a lack of commitment and ambition in the workplace,” said Catherine Gregory, head of marketing and communications at the Working Families charity.
“To change the often-negative narrative around women – especially mothers – working part-time and flexibly, we need a radical shift in workplace culture. Not only could this curb negative comments about mothers at work, but it could also support mothers’ career progression.”
Maltesers has teamed up with women’s online community Peanut to create the Work & Motherhood content hub, providing advice about the challenges working mothers face.
“Every day on Peanut, women talk about the harmful phrases that have become so normalised in reference to mothers and motherhood – making change in this area is long overdue,” said Peanut founder and CEO, Michelle Kennedy. “As a mother of two myself, I understand the impact these phrases can have. When I attend networking events I’m often asked, ‘Who’s taking care of the kids?’ or ‘How do you balance it all?’ and I’m pretty sure male founders aren’t asked the same questions.”
Kennedy points out that working mums are constantly juggling. “Harmful phrases and assumptions can really feed into feelings of guilt and perpetuate this idea that women should take on the bulk of responsibilities,” she adds. “The reality is, words matter. Juggling parenting alongside work can be a struggle, and we need to shift the focus in attitudes, empathy and terminology.”
These are the comments the survey found working mums want to stop hearing…
‘You look tired’
Kennedy says it’s OK to acknowledge you’re tired at work, but points out: “Colleagues might be forgetting quite how much you’re juggling every day. Sharing some insight with your colleague or employer might help them understand.”
‘She’s only part-time’
Part-time work is undertaken by 38% of women, compared to 11% of men, says Kennedy, who stresses women often work part-time so they can manage looking after their family. “Challenging assumptions about part-time work can break down the stigma that part-time work is a reflection of commitment, rather than a way to manage responsibilities,” she says.
‘I forgot you leave early’
It can work well if mothers map out their availability in their calendar to help alleviate comments like this, Kennedy suggests. “It’s a good reminder for colleagues. Also, don’t be afraid to remind colleagues ahead of time when you’ll be leaving for commitments – even a quick reminder at the start of a meeting that you need to round up on time can be really effective.”
‘Wish I could have Friday off’
Kennedy says the Peanut community advises other mums to respond to these types of comments positively. “It’s likely your colleague means well, but remind them why you have Fridays off and what this allows you to do in terms of childcare,” she says.
‘I bet it feels like a break coming into the office’
“Reply honestly – for many, having space away from home can be a much-needed distraction,” Kennedy points out. “Mothers who care for their children full-time are doing an unbelievable amount of work as well!”
‘I could never do that’
Kennedy says it can sometimes seem impossible to avoid motherhood shame, but she stresses: “There are no winners in the debate of work-life balance and professional choices. Do what’s best for you and your family – never allow the negative narratives to deter you from doing what’s best for you.”
‘Enjoy the rest of the week off!’
The rest of your ‘week off’ is likely to involve changing nappies, juggling schedules, and trying to maintain some semblance of self-care – and Kennedy points out that research suggests motherhood is equivalent to 2.5 full-time jobs. “Motherhood is no joke!” she says. “While comments like this may mean well, many women on Peanut have used this opportunity to have frank conversations about the challenges motherhood can bring.”
‘Must be nice to get a lie-in’
If you’re part-time or on flexi hours, Kennedy suggests mums have an open conversation with your colleague or employer around comments like this – “to shine a light on the realities of being a working mum. For many mothers, lie-ins are a thing of the past,” she adds.
‘Can your partner do any of the childcare?’
Again, Kennedy stresses it’s best to be open and honest about your circumstances. “For example, some mothers on Peanut have shared how their partner’s organisations don’t offer progressive policies for parents.”
‘It must be busy having the children home during the school holidays’
If you’re working from home, school holidays can impact your response time or working hours, Kennedy points out. “It’s important to communicate that you will be busy and have a few more balls to juggle – between meets, sports clubs and lunches. Remember it’s ok to foster discussions about your needs.”