I have a question

If you’re reading this, and you have children, do you work fewer hours per day or days per week than your partner? And if so, do you do that because you want to, or because you feel you’ve been forced to?

I’m reading an article in the Independent this morning, which refers to Glassdoor survey results showing Ireland as the worst country in Europe for gender pay gap. Irish women aged 25 to 34 with at least one child earn 31per cent less than their male counterparts.

women in the workplace

This left me openmouthed – Ireland has in the past come up reasonably well on gender pay gap studies – how could we have slipped so far?

I started reading to find out more. One of the issues with any pay gap study is the factors it takes into account. For example, past studies have compared full-time and part-time work without differentiating – obviously, people working part-time earn less than people working full-time. And if more women work part-time, then such a study will show a gender pay gap. But is it real – is it because women are forced to work part-time or because they choose to work part-time?

I found one Forbes article that says the study proves that the gender pay gap is about women having children – not that that’s right or OK, but that it acknowledges that the issue isn’t direct discrimination against women just because they’re women.

As someone who earned exactly what my husband earned through all the years of work, until I went to a four-day-week and (obviously) earned 80% of what he earned, this makes logical sense. Having said that, I am conscious that having worked in an environment that was extremely gender-balanced, and having never witnessed or experienced any gender discrimination at work, I am sometimes blinkered as to the extent of gender discrimination and gender pay gap in the wider world.

In a (very good) Irish Times article about the Glassdoor study this morning, I read this:

We all know that women fall down when they take time off to have a baby, and then need a more flexible schedule to look after it because childcare is still primarily the mother’s responsibility.

I completely accept that women take time off to have babies. And many women who don’t want to go back full-time are forced to quit, or change jobs, because there’s no part-time option (see here for stories of four friends of mine who stepped back from their careers after having children.) And of course, that’s a loss for everyone – the woman who resigns reluctantly, and the employer who is losing talent, when flexibility would have been a win-win.

Women who are afforded flexibility often take that option, working four- and three-day weeks, and often doing the equivalent of a full week’s work. And obviously, they earn less as a result, which is fine.

But is this because we’re forced to, or because we choose to? Is childcare still primarily the mother’s responsibility and by whose rules?

I’m possibly still in my bubble here, but when I went to a four-day-week it was because I wanted to – not because my husband told me childcare was primarily my responsibility. When I took redundancy to work from home around the kids’ school hours, that was my choice too, and fortunately I had the full support of my husband when making the decision. But are there women who are working shorter hours because someone told them it’s their responsibility, or is it because they want to? It’s a real question – maybe there are.

That we have huge problems for working parents in Ireland is clear – childcare costs will be helped in a small way by the second ECCE year, but they’re still astronomical, impossible to fix without state support, and still forcing people out of the workforce. And lack of flexibility is forcing people out of the workforce too, or to work full-time when they’d rather have something in between. And the mammy-track means some women are being sidelined and written off because they have children or because they don’t work full-time – more shortsightedness on employers’ part. But do we really have a like for like 31 per cent pay gap where male and female employees doing exactly the same job are being paid differently? And are women really being forced to take responsibility for childcare? I don’t know, but I’d love to hear your thoughts?


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21 thoughts on “I have a question”

  1. I do think it’s a tricky one to answer and yes there are an awful lot of different factors / situations to be taken into account but VERY broadly speaking I think most women pick up the childcare slack because it’s something they and their partner always just assumed they would do without maybe having a conversation about it.

    On the plus side I do think attitudes are slowly changing, it’s not unheard for the lads in here to leave early to collect their kids or work from home if they are sick. Admittedly that is also because a lot of the male filled job roles in here are quite flexible with regards to working outside of the office whereas the female filled roles tend to be (unnecessarily) very office based with little flexibility offered to work at home when needed.

    I find it strange that companies are still so unwilling to offer flexible working hours for most office jobs. Surely for the majority of tasks it doesn’t matter what time of the day it is done at as long it is completed by the required deadline?

    1. That’s interesting about it falling that way because it’s assumed and people never really talk about it. My own experience is different – we both worked full-time for so long, the decision to go to a four-day-week was huge and something we figured out together. But I know if he’d said “Actually, I want to go four-day instead” I’d have overruled him! It’s great to hear other perspectives – I’d say you’re right, in lots of families, it just ends up that way. But it’s probably safe to assume the part-time working women in question were happy to do that – and not reluctant? It’s a big thing to ask at work, and I imagine most people ask because they really want it, rather than feeling obliged?
      Re. the office based roles without flex to work from home – it’s so infuriating. And so common unfortunately. I totally agree with you – it’s strange that so many workplaces still haven’t figured out the benefits of flex work and work from home in particular. On the flip side, lots of more progressive employers (bigger corporates, anecdotally) are insisting that employees work from home at least some of the time, in order to reduce the need for desks for everyone – I think that’s absolutely the way forward. I love your comments The Other Emma!

      1. Ah thank you 🙂

        I kinda of get the feeling that a lot of women are lower earners in the relationship and that is why they take the reduced hours. Maybe not they are reluctant to do it anyway but that it makes more financial sense.

        I would love the opportunity to work from home, I’ve been refused twice already here without even the option of a trial run to see if it would feasible. I think it’s the not evening considering it which annoys me more than anything else, at least give it a go and if it doesn’t work, grand, we’ll try something else instead.

  2. I have 2 children and I work more hours than my husband. A lot more. I would work fewer than I do if I could.

    1. Thanks for the reply – is it that your job requires more hours or there’s an expectation that you’re there onsite for set hours regardless of volume of work to be done? And that they don’t offer flex? It sounds stressful.

  3. I work 4 days, my husband works 5. It’s my choice.
    However, I think this is definitely a thing. I know lots of women, especially those in childcare or lower paid office jobs who stopped work after babies as the childcare ate up all their wages.
    And every time I read that you’ve never experienced gender discrimination at work I gasp, that’s definitely a bubble. I’ve had my pregnancies commented on as being an inconvenience, had clients ask for a male, or at least someone older etc etc. You’re lucky:)

    1. “However, I think this is definitely a thing. I know lots of women, especially those in childcare or lower paid office jobs who stopped work after babies as the childcare ate up all their wages.”

      This is very much a thing – I know one woman here who took redundancy after working out her total childcare costs were nearly double her mortgage repayments and would essentially mean that her wages plus about 30% of her husbands wages would be spent on childcare.

      I don’t believe childcare workers wages should be reduced (god knows a lot of them are being paid rubbish money as it is) but I do believe the government needs to invest in making childcare more affordable especially during the early years when a lot of women are forced to take a complete break from work due to childcare costs.

      1. I think this opens up the bigger question of why more women are in lower paid jobs/ why caring professions (like childcare) pay less than other jobs. But it still means women are leaving work for financial reasons rather than because they feel that looking after children is primarily the mother’s responsibility – presumably if the woman earned more than the man, and one had to give up work for financial reasons, there’s a chance it would be the man. Unless the woman really wanted to, which is also possible. It’s complicated!

    2. In reply to Sinéad | Bumbles of Rice: Oh that’s horrendous – surely it’s not even legal to say your pregnancies were an inconvenience? And to ask for a male – that’s unreal!
      Maybe it depends on the industry – funds is relatively new to Ireland and very gender balanced, so I imagine it’s less likely to have a lot of discrimination going on, compared to the legal profession – which is ironic in itself I guess!

  4. I think it’s hard to distinguish the personal choice from the societal expectations. A lot of women feel they’re choosing to work less, but why is it that it is almost always women who work part time?
    (I think it’s linked in parts with maternity leave and mothers starting with a huge head start on caring for their children, that’s never really balanced in most couples)
    Incidentally, in our family, my husband works 4 days whereas I work full-time…. but he’s spending the extra day studying rather than with our daughter, something I’m supportive of but can’t imagine myself doing!

    1. Yes I wonder often about that too – I suspect it’s a mix of wanting to be with kids and feeling guilty because we see other women working part-time and staying at home and wonder if we should too. Carrot and stick of sorts. And yep, I totally agree that maternity leave has an impact – we get a taster for what it’s like to be at home, and it’s not unimaginable to do it a day or two per week – men don’t get to have that experience to the same extent (blogged here: http://officemum.ie/maternity-leave-give-women-taster-becoming-stay-home-mothers/ but I think you’re the first person I’ve encountered who thinks the same!)

      1. Ah ah, it may well that some of my thinking on the question comes from you, as I’ve been following your blog for a while!
        I think there are actually 2 aspects to this: one that maternity leave gives a head start on caring for children in general, which I think might translate into women doing more children related tasks in a lot of fabulous (even with a potentially even home workload), and therefore being more likely to feel it’s their job to do it, and the other, related, is as you say that it gives them a taster and therefore makes it much easier to see how it would pan out

  5. I work full-time (5 days/37.5 hours) and my husband works full-time shifts. We are lucky that my mother looks after our little one apart from 2 mornings a week when she goes to a playgroup so we don’t have major childcare costs. Even though I work full-time all the responsibilities like GP appts etc fall to me and I take annual leave for those rather than my husband. When I am off on annual leave and after work I have my daughter at home but when my husband isn’t working (because of his shifts he is at home in the mornings one week and in the afternoons another week), he doesn’t keep her at home – my mother still has our daughter even though he is at home. It’s bugs me but I think we just fell into that pattern.
    Next year when she starts nursery I will have to work flexibly to do drop-offs and pick-ups and that may involve me working later in the evenings to accommodate time out during the day to avoid paying for a childminder. He can only do 1 out of 3 weeks because of the shifts but its up to me to organise the rest.
    I was just chatting to a female colleague about this issue this morning. Reading back, that all sounds really bad – maybe I’m just having a rant day! I’d say he sees it very differently.

    1. Thanks for your comment – this is what I was wondering about! I wonder does your husband see it differently – it would be interesting to see what he says. I wonder also if it depends on the job/ nature of work – my husband and I both worked in very similar jobs in funds so when we both worked full-time, there was no reason at all for either one of us to do more of the medical appointments or creche pick-ups. We split it 50:50. If I took a half day for kids’ eye appointments this time (all three wear glasses, we have a lot of eye appointments) he’d take the half day the next time. It just wouldn’t have occurred to us to do it any differently but I suspect a huge part of that is because our jobs and hours were so similar. Now that I’m with the kids in the afternoon, I do the appointments. I’d love to hear what your husband says!

      1. Well, I eventually got to bring up this subject… very gently!
        He feels that he does do his share, e.g. on late shift he does the playgroup runs in the morning before he goes to work and he also takes care of everything to do with her weekly dance class which fits well around his shifts, he (thinks) does his share of bedtimes and I have one night a week out of the house for Sister Thursday (when my sister and I go do something together out of the house). He has set work holidays and only has 8 other days leave a year so its probably more practical for me to take leave as I can take mine anytime and I also get more bank holidays.
        I read recently that if you always think you are doing more than you are, so if both of you think you are doing more than your partner, it probably is a good 50:50 split!
        Sorry this ended up being more about share of work than salary equality.

        1. I keep meaning to get back to this – fair play to you for brining it up – not easy to do!
          And in a way, it’s actually great that he feels he is doing his fair share – imagine if someone’s partner said “eh, it’s not my job – you’re the mother”!
          I remember reading that too – that men usually think they’re doing more housework than they think they are, so it probably applies to childminding too. But it sounds like you had a good open discussion about it which is the main thing!

  6. Really interesting article… I was also shocked by the 31% pay gap.. it seems huge..
    Think Dubmel makes a good point that it is hard to tell the difference between personal choice and societal expectations.. I know I certainly felt judged when I went back to work full time after the birth of my first child..
    The missing link I think is an open flexible jobs market which BOTH mums and dads can take advantage of during those crazy early years. Also paternity leave is critical; there is proven research about the impact of paternity leave on a womens career.. Basically its a great idea as it helps establish shared responsibility and sets down a routine which is advantageous for women for years to come..

    1. Yeah, I agree with that and your blog post. I guess for it to have the best effect the paternity leave would not overlap with the maternity leave? Like some paternity leave allow dads to gain experience at a crucial time, and so there is not such a disparity in child caring experience but non overlapping also helps everybody realise that dad can do it on his own and giving them that taster

  7. In my view a gender pay gap is only a real gender pay gap if you are comparing what a male and female in the same job with the same hours get paid. Otherwise, the comparison isn’t real and, as you mention above, it is ridiculous to compare full and part time without adjusting them.
    I am not working in Ireland so I can’t comment on specifics. However, I do feel that society still expects women to do the childcare or at least organise it and pick up the slack.
    In our case my husband and I earned pretty much the same (in totally differnt full time jobs) before we had the children. I wanted to reduce my hours after maternity leave. He looked at taking over the part time role and me going back to work full time, but in the end we stuck with me working part time. I didn’t want to give it up and I know that if he was at home more than me, the housework would suffer a lot. The time I spend at home is more efficient than how he would have spent the time at home if we had changed roles.
    I really do believe it will be a very long time before the pay gap closes. Even within the same job and with the same hours, men will continue to be seen as the ones who are in the office longer (as if that makes any bloody difference), who are more prepared to travel for work, who are less likely to take time off for children, etc. All that affects pay, bonuses, promotions, etc. in my experience. But maybe Germany is very backward in that respect and has turned me too cynical 😉
    Great article Andrea.

  8. Very interesting article, and although I’m very lucky to work for a company that base salary on market medians so gender doesn’t come into it, I do think it’s still an issue for many women out there. I believe the responsibility for childcare comes down to the individual couple. In our house my husband has more flexibility so he’d tend to do the appointments etc and he’s more involved in school activities than I am. I work full time, Monday to Friday. My husband also works full time but as he’s self employed he works his hours around me & our children. So he starts early & collects our son from school, gets dinner ready, does homework etc. I check homework & do bedtime. He’s home 2 days during the week so has to work over the weekend. So overall the balance of responsibility is probably heavier for him. For salary, like I said our company base salaries on role profiles and the market rates for that role. Flexible working arrangements are available but it is women that tend to apply from these more than men

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