When mothers are considered no better than graduates

Credit: Standsome Workllifestyle

A prominent parenting magazine is looking for an editorial assistant. According to the job ad posted on Facebook, the position “Would suit a grad, but also a mum looking to return to the workforce”.

Seriously? A mother returning to the workforce — with all her years of work and life experience — is in the same employment category as a graduate?

How is it that having children, and taking some time out of the workforce to care for them, suddenly voids a woman’s entire career history to such an extent that she’s no more valuable than someone fresh out of uni without a single day of experience?

To make matters even worse, the job is full time. The lowly status of the job can’t even be justified on the basis of a mother wishing to take a backwards step professionally so she can spend more time with her kids.

Imagine if the job ad was aimed at men instead of women. “Would suit a graduate or a man in his late 30s with 20 years experience returning to work after a sabbatical.”

There wouldn’t be a single applicant. It would be an insult to men and seen as offering them the scraps. But as mothers, we’re all supposed to happy that at least we’re being courted.

For the record, this isn’t an attack on the magazine – it’s entirely possible they think offering a mother a bottom-rung job that she’s grossly over-qualified for is better than no job.

But it does say a lot about how our culture views mothers and their skills when even a magazine, whose primary target market is women aged 25–45 with children aged 0–12 years, perpetuates the systematic erasure of mothers’ identities, experience and value.

It uncritically buys into the idea that the contribution of women simply isn’t worth very much to anyone.

For many women, having kids is like landing on the longest snake in life’s game of Snakes & Ladders. You spend years slogging your way up the career ladders, only to land on the motherhood snake and be forced right back to the beginning of the board.

Such falls crush women’s self esteem and self worth. It takes a toll on their mental health, and seriously impacts their financial independence, social status and can even force them into poverty.

Before long, they end up believing they’re “just a mother” and professional success and utilising their skills becomes a distant memory.

I have a friend who used to run high-profile, high-stakes international events, whose CV boasts career highlights such as changing the lights on the Empire State Building to her client’s corporate colours. She’s prepared to work part-time, full-time, practically any time, and she’s desperate to find work that matches her skills and experience.

But all she’s managed to get is poorly paid data entry.

“I tried to tell myself that being a mother was enough,” my friend said. “That it doesn’t matter if I don’t have an interesting or satisfying job. But if f**king does matter.”

You might say that this is simply the result of choices these women have made. They knew going into motherhood that their careers — and career choices — would take a hit.

But we’ve been fed a line that workplaces are more friendly to mothers now. There’s even laws to support this assumption. Job sharing and part-time work are supposed to be options. That’s the story, anyhow.

The reality is that many employers, just like much of society, are hostile towards mothers. The only thing we’re good for is volunteering on cake stalls and buying scented candles and washing powder.

The devaluing of women’s work — and more specifically mothers’ work — isn’t just an issue for the individual women involved. It affects us all.

Economists have been telling us for years that increasing women’s workforce participation will lead to general economic growth. The Grattan Institute estimates that an increase of just six per cent of women in the workforce would boost our GDP by $25 billion.

The collective number of overlooked qualifications and ignored years of experience standing at school gates across the country is mind-bogglingly stupid.

The sad news is that many highly qualified and experienced mothers will be falling over each other to apply for that magazine’s graduate job, believing that that’s all they are worth, and the scraps is the best they’re ever going to get.

And we’re all poorer for it.

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