By Annie Ridout
In the UK, it’s estimated that 54,000 women lose their jobs during pregnancy or new motherhood each year, meaning the mother is not only left with no income stream or job to return to, but she’ll need to find a new job – or career – while tending to a young baby.
It’s called maternity discrimination, it’s rife – and yet few employers are penalised as the victim only has three months to file a claim. This means taking a company to court in the late stages of pregnancy, or while recovering from birth.
Instead, new mothers take redundancy or step away quietly, worried that kicking up a fuss will affect career options down the line. Those who want to continue with a career may start a business, or set up as a freelancer and create a work-life that fits more comfortably around family life.
There are now 287,000 mothers freelancing in the UK, accounting for 15% of all freelancers. And this number has increased by 70% in the past decade. Flexibility is often cited as the reason for choosing this way of working, though there are other benefits, too.
Self-employment often enables the mother to spend more time with her children, do the nursery or school drop-offs and pick-ups, while continuing to earn and enjoy the mental stimulation that paid work hopefully offers. She can develop her career and keep a foot in the workplace.
And freelance mums are certainly doing their bit, financially. So-called ‘mumpreneurs’ – women with children who run a business – contribute £7bn annually to the UK economy. It should be noted that this income is generated while we continue to do proportionately more childcare and housework than our male partners.
It’s no wonder women with careers are often referred to as ‘Supermum‘.
In an ideal world, women wouldn’t be losing their jobs at an already highly emotional and testing time, as they navigate new parenthood. But if this is the situation you find yourself in, it may be reassuring to know that there is the option to create a more self-led work-life.
Rather than relying on having an employer who will accept requests for flexible working – choosing to go freelance, or set up a small business, can give mothers back the power. They can decide on their own hours and clients – and, crucially, reap all the benefits of their hard work.
In the future, we – women and men – might be encouraged to start planning more family-friendly careers during the pregnancy period, or even earlier: before conception. But as it currently stands, most people don’t have the foresight to bother doing this.
Instead, we assume all will be fine and continue working until we’re told our job has disappeared. Or wait until the baby arrives before realising our previous career is incompatible with the type of parent we want to be. But we are then left planning a new career while tending to a young baby.
If you find yourself with a new baby in your arms, wondering what work you might be able to do from home, first decide whether you’d like to transform your pre-baby job into a work-from-home, freelance career, or if you’d like to start something new. Once you’ve decided, start brainstorming.
Ask yourself these questions…
- What would I like my freelance work be?
- How will I charge for it/ make it pay?
- How many hours a week will I work?
- When will I work? (during childcare hours or nap-times, evening, weekends)
- What do I need to earn, to cover my costs? (bills, childcare, food, going out, clothes etc)
And if you still feel stuck, how about a session with a life coach? She will help you to hone in on your values and work out how best to design your new career, while looking after a baby. Nicky Raby is north London-based and also offers Skype consultations. But there are others, around the UK.
This article is originally posted in Forbes.