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Let's unlabel the labels

In light of Mother's Day this weekend and recently thousands more people experiencing some form of flexible work (with working from home during Coronavirus), we wanted to shed some light on unhelpful labels historically used with flexible work and on mums. Coronavirus has provided us with the opportunity (finally) to unlabel these labels, and change the conversation around flexible work.

What labels?

When women have children, they seem to very quickly be assigned labels that force them to choose between their competing responsibilities and what they find fulfilling: either give up time with your children to pursue your career as a 'working mum'; let go of your job (usually at a critical time in your career) to be a 'stay at home mum'; or navigate the tough middle road between the two competing roles as a 'part-timer.' At Job Pair, we see and hear a lot of problems with these labels, so we've broken them down to understand better what factors are actually at play in the workforce when women become mothers, and how we change the unhelpful labelling.

The label: 'Working mum'

When was the last time you heard a father called a 'working dad'? The chances are that it doesn't crop up that often. The 'working mum' label is reserved for women and singles out those who go back to work after having children. It's a commonplace label that, while describing a person doing two productive things, is often felt as undermining that person and questioning their ability to commit to their roles (both in the office and as a mum at home) because they are juggling both.

We're in the year 2020 where almost 50% of the workforce are women, many of which whose career and children are equally important to them. It's time to drop this out-dated, irrelevant term.

The label: 'Stay-at-home mum'

'Stay-at-home mum' is a term that gained traction in the 1980s and 1990s when more women continued participating in the workforce after having children. The problem with this label is that the emphasis is on staying at home – not going out into the world (to 'work') – and it doesn't describe ALL the work that person does do.

We're yet to meet a person who likes being called a 'stay-at-home mum (or dad)'; they find it belittling and it undermining of all the work they do.

This label is irrelevant. Whether you spend your day at home or in a workplace doing work, there's just no need to label it, so let's just let it go.

The label: 'Part-timer'

Finally, for the women and men who split their time more evenly between work and family comes the label' part-timer.' Traditionally, part-time work has largely been reserved for mothers with competing commitments and is an arrangement associated with a lot of judgement.

SEEK conducted research into employees' views of part-time work. The research found that of the respondents who work part-time, women (30%) felt more discriminated against than their male counterparts (12%). Full-time workers were also asked their opinions on their part-time colleagues. Key reasons of why part-time work is negatively perceived included that part-time workers 'aren't as readily available as full-time colleagues', 'lack of commitment to their company', 'absence is seen as a burden to their full-time colleagues' and 'if they're not seen in the office, they're not working.'

Yet these myths about working part-time couldn't be less true! Research shows that people who work four days a week or less are more productive, more committed and happier than working full-time hours. Reports like this one by Ernst & Young, show the opportunities and benefits of flexible work arrangements, where women working flexibly delivered an effective extra week and a half of productivity by being more efficient with their time.

A positive outcome to the Coronavirus pandemic is that entire workforces – women and men - are experiencing flexible work arrangements; many for the first time. The judgement around people who flex work is changing. People who may previously have judged 'part-timers' as less productive, 'working mums', etc. are realising that flexible work arrangements can offer a more productive, healthier way of working. They are rethinking the way they work, and we're hearing much more productive and appropriate descriptors for flexible work like 'smart work' and 'agile working'.

The way we think about work with flexible work being the norm is beneficial to women, men, parents and organisations. It is an essential step in creating more equality and diversity in our workplaces.

"Women are working more, men are understanding their value as caregivers, women are primary breadwinners—I mean, we could go on and on and on. Things are different. So we can't keep operating like everything is the same, and that's what many of us have done. And I think it's up to us to change the conversation." – Michelle Obama

On behalf of the Job Pair team, I wish all mums a very happy Mother's Day. I think being a mum is one of the most joyful, challenging and rewarding roles I've encountered yet. I hope you enjoy celebrating wonderful you this Sunday.

Yours truly,


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