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Why is parenthood disproportionately affecting women’s career prospects?

Parenthood, mental-health issues and a lack of suitable jobs make it much harder for UK women to stay afloat compared with men

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By Kuba Shand-Baptiste on

Though many of us are in agreement that motherhood and mental health should not have an impact on women’s career opportunities, in practice both factors overwhelmingly see young women miss out on work compared with men.

According to a new report from the Young Women’s Trust, Young Female and Forgotten?, parenthood makes women “six times more likely to become economically inactive” (ie those who are not in full-time education, haven’t looked for work in a month and cannot start work within two weeks). Yet it’s a factor that does not affect the career prospects of men. And in addition to existing gender pay gaps across most sectors, further education doesn’t necessarily remedy economic gender inequality either. In fact, women with higher education qualifications are on a par with men without any when it comes to finding themselves out of work due to factors such as having dependent children and a lack of suitable jobs.

It is true that the higher a young person’s qualifications are, the more likely they are to find themselves in employment. But, the report states, “that qualifications – especially higher level ones – do not fully counteract the effect of a young woman’s gender is discouraging".

37,000 more women than men aged 16- to 24-years-old are considered economically inactive in the United Kingdom, despite the fact that most of them have expressed wishes to find work either immediately or in the long-term

More discouraging still is the fact that 37,000 more women than men (264,000) aged 16- to 24-years-old are considered economically inactive in the United Kingdom, despite the fact that most of them have expressed wishes to find work either immediately or in the long term. Worse still, due to being left out of national unemployment statistics, these women have not been offered support from the government in order to improve their prospects, adding to the cycle of low confidence and poor mental health that often further negatively impacts job-seeking efforts.

Conducted over two years, the report includes a number of interviews with economically inactive women, some of whom highlighted the harsh reality of looking for work without adequate support. One of the women, a 19-year-old mother with mental-health issues and a child in care, said: “It’s horrible, it’s horrible not being able to work, it’s horrible not having the chance and no one giving you the chance any more, because of your past and stuff like that straight up. You try to go in college, you stop because of my past, try to go into work, I can’t because of my head.”

The report calls on the government to consider its recommendations, including the introduction of a Ministerial Champion role dedicated to prioritising policies targeted towards helping those who are not in education, employment or training. Speaking to The Guardian, Carole Easton, chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, said: “While the government focuses on reducing its unemployment figures, over a quarter of a million young women who are not included in the numbers are being forgotten.

“The young women in our study faced multiple barriers, but the overwhelming majority did not lack personal ambition or a willingness to change their circumstances in the future.”

@kubared

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