Motherhood is still the main obstacle in women's careers

Women are more likely to reduce working hours for childcare.
Women are more likely to reduce working hours for childcare. / SUR
  • In Spain, 96 per cent of parents applying for reduced working hours to help look after young children are mothers

The decision to have a child and all the changes that entails for a family continue to have a direct effect on women's professional careers. Although reconciliation policies are gradually being improved, the arrival of a baby into the family unit, or the existence of a dependent person who needs special care, is a responsibility that women still tend to take on, rather than men.

Many choose to stop working for an agreed period or by working shorter days, and in extreme cases they give up work altogether to devote themselves to their family full-time. The statistics make this situation very clear and confirm, for example, that 96% of cases of employees applying for reduced hours for childcare in Spain involve women, while just four per cent of men decide to cut down their working hours to meet family commitments.

This percentage is reflected by the Survey into the Active Population (EPA) but other studies also show a major difference between men and women when it comes to cutting down on working hours.

The latest report from the National Statistics Institute (INE) shows that 21% of female workers reduce their working hours in order to care for children or sick adults, compared with 2% of men. Or to put it another way, two out of every ten women opt for some type of reduction in their working hours to cover their needs at home. This has major implications for their professional careers.

A right for both

The UGT union's Equality Department in Malaga says an increasing number of companies favour men when appointing someone for a job, because it is usually women who apply to reduce their working hours or take unpaid leave. This even applies when a female applicant has no family commitments. Some firms consider that employing a woman aged between 25 and 40 could have repercussions on the organisation of the company in the medium term.

However, both men and women have the legal right to work fewer hours in order to care for children under 12 or dependents, with the proportional reduction in salary, and this is clearly stated in the Statute of Workers (article 37, point 5).

This means that it could be the mother or the father, or even both at the same time if their family needs make that the best option. The rules are different for maternity leave, which can only last for 16 weeks: the first six of those weeks have to be taken by the mother, but the remainder can be divided between both parents.

Undoubtedly, adjusting the working day to cover domestic needs is a great help on a day-to-day basis, but it has a direct effect on a woman's professional career.

Rosa del Mar Rodríguez, the coordinator in Malaga of the Andalusian Institute for Women, says this "not only means women have lower pay at the end of the month, which is logical, but it automatically puts a brake on their possibilities of promotion".

She also points out that there is another effect in the long term: "The fact that a working woman is earning less means she is paying less Social Security, which means that when she retires her pension will be lower."

Are jobs more precarious?

Another thing which worries employees when they consider working fewer hours is the possibility that it will put them at risk of losing their job. The Statute of Workers makes it clear that this should not be the case. Article 55, point 5b, says that dismissal can only be for a reason which is not related to pregnancy nor exercising the right to measures which include time off for an agreed period or a reduction in the working day.

In fact, most companies are keen to avoid conflict with workers over this: they don't want to end up in court trying to justify that they have dismissed someone who has reduced their working hours for a different reason and that there has been no discrimination.

To coincide with International Women's Day, other surveys have been carried out to show that it really is women who in one way or another forfeit progress in their careers to juggle their home and working life.

For example, a report by the YoNoRenuncio platform, created by the Club Malasmadres (Bad Mothers Club), came to some significant conclusions after interviewing more than 24,000 people. It confirmed that 58% of working mothers forgo something in their professional career when they have children (fewer hours, time off, giving up work altogether), while only six per cent of fathers do the same. Also, 51.3 per cent of women who do not yet have children believe they will have to make some sort of professional sacrifice when they become mothers.