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Mumsnet CEO: The 'motherhood penalty' is holding back women at work

While many companies have signalled that diversity is a key priority for their businesses, there is still a dearth of women at the top.

The percentage of female CEOs in the FTSE 100 declined to 6% this year from 7% in 2018, according to executive search firm Robert Half.

Mumsnet CEO Justine Roberts attributes this to the “motherhood penalty”.

Speaking on Yahoo Finance UK’s Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded, Roberts said, “Women are basically equal in the workplace until they have children. And they are picking up the bulk of the childcare responsibility and actually most of the domestic responsibility post-children and men aren’t — and that is effectively creating a glass ceiling.”

(Watch the full Justine Roberts interview here.)

Beyond simply taking on childcare, Roberts said mothers also allocate much of their “head space” to their children while they are at work. “That means they are less likely to go for that demanding job, they’re less likely to think they can be on the board and take on responsibility,” she said. “I think we need to fix that.”

The so-called motherhood penalty is one of the reasons Mumsnet is campaigning for the UK government to compel companies to publish their parental leave policies, much like firms in the country must now make their gender pay gap statistics public. A survey conducted by Mumsnet in February found 82% of respondents were reluctant to ask potential employers about their parental leave policies.

Mumsnet and Gransnet CEO and co-founder Justine Roberts (right) on Yahoo Finance UK's "Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded" show.
Mumsnet and Gransnet CEO and co-founder Justine Roberts (right) on Yahoo Finance UK's "Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded" show. Photo: Yahoo Finance UK

“We think paternity pay in particular is really important,” Roberts said. “All the evidence says the more time men take off in the first year of their child being born, the more time they want to spend with them through the rest of their lives.”

She advised employers to create more flexible working practices for all parents.

“[Flexible working] is key obviously for mothers, but it’s key for everyone nowadays: I think millennials as well will benefit quite a lot — they all want a bit of flexibility so I think there are good business cases for introducing that,” Roberts said.

Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded is a new premium video series from Yahoo Finance UK. The show explores the stories of some of the most inspirational women across business, tech, and academia. Catch up on all the latest episodes here.