When I became a mother, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a break off work for two years to look after my then toddler. I certainly did not foresee the challenges that came along with being a working mother after returning to the work force following that short break.
On an economical level, women are encouraged to return to work after having children. There have been committees and groups which were set up to help women remain in the workforce, facilitate non-working women to enter or return to the workforce. Flexi-work arrangements and telecommuting are just some suggestions rolled out by the government so that women could continue staying active in the workforce while at the same time care for their children.
Working mothers of today are often struggling to find that perfect balance. They face immerse pressure to perform well both at the workplace and home. We are supposed to be the modern career woman who contributes to the economy while helping our husbands’ shoulder part of the financial burden. At the same time, we are also expected to be the nurturing mother who raises her children well, while simultaneously managing other matters of the household. What happens if you choose to be on either side of the fence? High flyer mothers have been judged for neglecting their children and often blamed for their children’s misdemeanours. While stay-home mothers have been accused of being lazy and selfish for quitting their jobs. It is no secret that working mothers continue to bear a heavier burden when it comes to balancing work and family.
Due to the greying population, the government has been active in encouraging women to have more children. National policies such as additional cash bonuses and increased paternity leaves have been erected to motivate women into having more children. While these enhanced maternity and childcare benefits are undeniably attractive and much appreciated by the working mothers, majority still hope for more employer support. However, instead of support, they are often at the receiving end of discrimination. It is shocking and embarrassing that a prosperous and modern country such as Singapore still have companies which hold such backdated views. Unfortunately, company culture is not something that changes overnight.
We have all heard of horror stories on pregnant working women being unfairly terminated after informing their employers about their pregnancy or mothers who have just returned after maternity leave only to be asked to resign instead. Unsurprisingly, mothers who are working for some time have also face discrimination at work, such as being penalised for taking leaves including childcare leave even though it is their entitlement.
The government first introduced the childcare leave in 2004. Parents of children aged 0 to 6 were given full flexibility to utilize the 6 days leave per calendar year to tend to or simply bond with their child. The government understood that children in the preschool age tend to require more attention.
They had also hoped that employers would work with their employees to better integrate their career and family lives. Unfortunately, not all employers are understanding even though they could be parents themselves. You would be astonished at how some companies do not encourage the use of childcare leave at all. However, employers should note that the unreasonable refusal to grant childcare leave could give rise to criminal liability.
Most employers and childless co-workers do not understand the woes of a working mother and frown upon the repeated leave-taking. I am sure any mother would rather not be taking these leaves if their child was not falling sick so often. Sadly, this is just the tip of the ice berg, there are many other discriminating issues which working mothers face. Some working mothers have found themselves being passed on for promotions or not given equal opportunities as their single, childless female co-workers or even their married male co-workers who have kids. (That’s sexism but a story for another time.)
Thankfully, not all organizations have such narrow-minded views, however, we must admit that there is still a long way to go in changing the perspectives of employers. In recent years, the government has been doing a lot to encourage birth rates, perhaps it is time to ramp up efforts on educating employers on the pros of promoting a family-oriented, work-life balanced environment.