Women significantly less likely to be promoted after having children, says government report

CIPD calls for review of parental leave legislation to allow families choice over how they share caring responsibilities

Women are significantly less likely to be offered a promotion at work after having a child than their male counterparts, according to a new government report that suggests men and women experience a “large divergence” in their career paths following the decision to start a family. 

The research findings, published by the universities of Bristol and Essex for the Government Equalities Office (GEO), found women suffered economically and often became ‘stuck’ at work as a result of taking on childcare responsibilities, while there was little impact on fathers. 

According to the report, just 28 per cent of women were in full-time or self-employed work three years after childbirth, compared to 90 per cent of new fathers. And while a quarter (26 per cent) of men had been promoted or moved to a better job in the first five years following parenthood, that figure dropped to 13 per cent for women.

As a result of the GEO’s findings, the CIPD called on the government to review and reform the existing parental leave and pay legislation to allow families greater balance and choice over how they share caring responsibilities.

The report is part of a series of academic evidence reviews on family-friendly work policies and women’s career progression as part of the government’s workplace and gender equality research programme. The aim of the reviews, which were commissioned in 2018, is to explore the challenges parents face to progression in the workplace after having children, what works in helping them overcome these barriers and what motivates employers to introduce family-friendly policies and practices. 

Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, told People Management that reviewing workplace practices was an important part of closing the gender pay and progression gap affecting women. “Decisions about pay and promotion are also made through processes that continue to disadvantage women. These can include promotion via networks, promoting people similar to ourselves and an overall lack of clear standards for pay and promotion,” she said.

McCartney added that HR teams had a role in ensuring processes for progression – including career planning, salary standards and job roles – were standardised and transparent, and that line managers were trained to follow agreed, objective criteria for making promotion decisions.

Susan Harkness, professor at the University of Bristol’s school of policy studies, said the results of the study highlighted how gendered employment patterns were following childbirth. “Worryingly, it appears that women who return to employment typically see their chance of moving up the occupational ladder decrease,” Harkness said, adding: “Women who return to the same employer risk becoming stuck in their job roles with limited career progression.”

Harkness said the loss of full-time work experience was an important part of the explanation for the UK’s current gender pay gap and suggested women “still suffer economically” as a result of taking on childcare responsibilities. 

The report suggested employers focus on introducing long-term support for working parents so they had equal opportunities to progress, and that employers provide new mothers with the opportunity to access and continue full-time roles that can support their caring responsibilities.

Additionally, the GEO said fathers needed to be supported in accessing more flexible work opportunities. 

A recent survey found working fathers faced many issues around accessing flexible work. The poll, conducted by Working Dads and Working Mums, found that two in five working fathers who applied for flexible working had their requests turned down. 

One in five working dads with flexible arrangements said they felt discriminated against by their managers and co-workers, and a quarter felt their line manager did not understand the pressures of juggling work with family life.