Social media has been filled with posts recognising women in the workplace. Often more so, around the wake of International Women’s Day, and whilst in South Africa, our praise for our female colleagues is usually reserved for August to coincide with our Women’s Day celebrations, I couldn’t help but wonder if we’ve got stuck in platitudes.

Reflecting on many conversations I’ve had over the years with female candidates who continue to struggle with the juggle of careers and motherhood, the stark realities they face in striving to meet expectations from all quarters were exacerbated during and after Covid19.

Dubbed the “shecession,” it was anticipated that women would come out of the Covid19 economic downturn far worse than their male counterparts. This is because sectors hardest hit under lockdown conditions, including hospitality, education, and care work, have a disproportionately larger female workforce. Further, in most cases, when lockdowns closed schools and creches, women were the ones who reduced their hours or even left their jobs to take care of the children and manage the homeschooling requirements.

And, as the economy picks up, men will again be better off. A recent LinkedIn UK survey tracking professional appointments indicated that 62% of placements in the 2021/22 period have gone to men. But, whether driven by fewer women putting themselves forward as they continue to balance the uncertainty of Covid19 conditions or a subconscious – or dare I say intentional – bias from organisations to choose the candidate who is least likely to have to adjust their working hours to accommodate family responsibilities, the situation remains challenging to the gains in gender equity achieved over the past decade.

An article I read recently comparing the experiences of a working mom in Sweden with one in the US highlighted the vast differences in protections offered to parents. Thankfully in South Africa, our legislation does create some protections, including now for paternity leave.

The challenges experienced by working moms are not new, and I have heard many, many tales over the years interviewing professionals who have experienced this bias. Stories of being looked over for promotion or inclusion in a high-profile project because they’re recently married and considering starting a family or when they return from maternity leave and are shocked to learn that their job has been made redundant or radically changed.

Whilst the changes may have been related to functional requirements to deal with the individuals’ absence during maternity leave, and these adjustments are rarely communicated to the incumbent and create high levels of insecurity, anxiety, and stress. In addition, the continuation of these changes post-return is problematic. It could be challenged as material changes to terms and conditions of employment. Yet, most working moms accept the changes for fear of being perceived as complex or further entrenching the bias against them.

Many professional soon-to-be moms feel pressured operationally about taking time away, as is their right, and it’s increasingly common to hear of maternity leaves shortened to two months or where these women work remotely for a part, if not all, their maternity leave. The societal pressure to remain 100% on is vast, with many high achievers feeling pushed to perform in corporate as if they’ve no children and parents as if they don’t have a career.

Of course, the prospect of four months with no, or very low, pay is also a motivator to make a quicker return, especially as more and more women are primary breadwinners. Reports of delays receiving UIF, generally a pittance compared to their typical earnings, are commonplace. On average, women receive their maternity payout in a single lump sum up to a year after the birth of their baby!

And even as there are companies, including TSR, who pay their employees during their maternity, there are far more who don’t. And where the time needed away from the office to take care of the kids in the future is forced to be taken as leave.

My hope, learning from the experiences of remote work, is that it IS possible to be productive and work asynchronous hours whilst surrounded by non-traditional workspaces. However, it is essential to take into consideration the additional stressors placed on particularly women, who continue to juggle their many roles in these uncertain times.

Work-life integration, not balance, is the only way forward to reap the most significant benefits for all. At TSR, we remain committed to sourcing the best talent for our clients and finding opportunities for our candidates. We have a proud track record of placing highly skilled women professionals. For more information on our specialist recruitment services or current opportunities, please get in touch with us.