A few facts to understand the legal situation in France and that is largely shared by many countries.
- Legal maternity leave in France: 16 weeks (4 months) = This is compulsory
- Legal paternity leave since July 1st 2021: 28 days amongst which 7 days are compulsory
The inequality starts here. The “main” parent, the parent “by default” is the mother
This means that a mother leaves work longer than the father and also that she stays longer alone with the child as well, forming from the child’s first life moment a bond that will have repercussions for the rest of the child’s and the mother’s life as the mother will always be considered, at work, at school, like the primary parent you call to take care of the child.
- An employer will be more willing to promote a man who is a father than a woman who is a mother because he will have the idea that a mother will prioritize the child, work less hours, take more days off to take care of the child and the worst part is that, on average, this is true for the reasons cited above, women are considered like the main parent from the start of the child’s life largely because of this maternity leave that was so much longer for them. Even if it is obviously not true for all women, an employer will be biased by this tendancy and this will affect the woman’s whole career.
- Imposter syndrome is stronger in women and even more in mothers :
- Feeling that they do not diserve a promotion or a bonus because of the bias linked to motherhood.
- Auto-censorship to ask for promotions to high executive jobs
- A woman who has children has 79% less chances to get hired than if she did not have children
- If she is hired, she will be offered 11.000 dollars less on average than if shed id not have children
- Women are not more prone to leave their jobs to take care of children than men. Both sexes are actually equal in this wish to leave their job to take care of children: 2%, same percentage for both sexes.
The professional consequences of having a child:
Birth of a child is a revolution for a woman who has to adjust to having a whole new person to take care of, to a new body, the body radically changes for 9 months before changing radically again after birth. Their body and lives are changed for ever.
After a child’s birth, the mother’s whole body seems to be directing her towards one thing: taking care of a baby: breast feeding, hormones etc. But a woman is obviously not just hormones and breast-feeding. Women have other things in their lives, interests, hobbies, love stories, work and these things that women love to do are suddenly put to a stop because they have to take care of their newborn baby. It can be hard and it is common knowledge now that even though they love their child to infinity, it as also very difficult. They give up on many things including their freedom to spend their time like they wish to. Their life, their time is no longer just theirs.
In a very short period of time, women are asked to adjust to an incredible amount of information, bodily changes and mostly to a new person in their lives, a person who totally depends on them (and their partner) for survival.
Put work in the equation and you have an impossible one to solve.
Studies are clear: maternity is a great source of sexist bias at work. It means that even though women are not even thinking of having a baby yet, at the beginning of their career, the simple fact that they are a women and that they could potentially become a mother starts to affect their work conditions because their employer assumes several things:
- that they will become a mother,
- that being a mother is more important to them than work and that when they do, they will become the parent by default (more absent than the father, called when the child is sick etc). As a result of this maternity bias, employers will consider a woman as a less productive asset than a man and pay them less, give them less bonuses, less jobs with responsability.
This sexist bias does not even wait for a woman to become a mother to have some negative effect on a woman’s career, once again, this bias is effective as soon as you are a woman entering your first job and will never stop for a whole woman’s career even if she never ends up having a child or even if she has one and she is as productive as a man despite being a mother.
This bias is therefore obviously not grounded on facts but on pure and simple sexism.
The Imposter syndrome: the internal ennemy
The worst part is women have integrated this maternity bias. Indeed, they themselves have ended up believing and integrating the fact that, as women, who may or may not have children one day, they are potentially less attractive to a company or an employer, that they have less chances of getting high in the hierarchy, of making as much money as a man, and access the same level of hierarchy as a man.
Even when they perform just as well as a man, they will be more prone to develop an imposter syndrome and that affects every aspect of their career: the way they ask for a raise, the way they behave in any meeting, the way they deal with conflicts, the way they manage their yearly assessment meetings.
So imagine, being conditioned from birth, to think that they are less of an asset to a company than a man (even though all studies show that women are just as productive as men in the workplace), imagine, when they get pregnant, have a child and have to leave the workplace for a few months, 4 at least, more if the pregnancy requires it.
Their imposter syndrome is on fire!!
Why coaching is crucial when you become a parent?
One must wonder what that has to do with coaching? Indeed, it is not the women’s fault if they are victim of a bias, why should they be the ones being coached?
Good point! Everyone could benefit from being coached in this case.
But coaching can really help deconstructing, understanding what is going on for them, their feelings, their fears, their breaks and also it helps them finding ressources to overcome these challenges.
But mostly, coaching is oriented towards action. They will understand but mostly elaborate plans of actions to act on your challenges.
- Gain confidence
- Get awareness on imposter syndrome
- Get awareness on those mixed feelings they have about getting back to work and leaving your baby to a nanny or to day care
- Deal with the change of dynamics in their couple, with their partner
- Not apologize at work for now being a mother and needing adjustments
- Get a reality check: Not consider that being a mother makes them less productive but on the contrary be convinced that it is going to make them as if not more productive than before.
Being a parent actually improves your professional skills:
Studies show that parents with children are actually more productive as they are more used to multitasking and have to be really organized.
Men who take care of children are more empathetic, have better negotiation skills and in multitasking professionally. It improves your empathy, your soft skills, your organizational skills and your work life balance all of which are targets that most professionals aim at.
A study from Valoir on remote work during Covid shows that parents with children at home were actually more productive than people who live alone.
Also and it is in line with previous statement, the biggest distraction at home is not human interactions but social media. Children are therefore not the biggest distraction, social media is and people living alone are certainly subject to social media.
Having children is not a professional handicap, it is actually an asset.
The problem is women have to be convinced of that fact to have a smooth landing after a maternity leave.
The fact that paternity leave is more and more accepted and actually taken and that it is also longer is a good step because women do not feel like they are the only ones taking that leave during their career.
Companies have a great deal to gain from supporting parents in this new role
The way the company, the colleagues, the supervisors will react and adapt to this new parent status of a colleague, father or mother will have a huge impact on his/her motivation and loyalty.
How can someone feel engaged with a company that neglects taking my life project into consideration? With a company that adds stress and restrictions to my daily life already shaken by a newborn child?
On the contrary, how can someone not be grateful and respect for an employer who celebrates with me that great step of becoming a parent? A company that not only takes my obligations into account but also values the way parenthood has transformed me.
If a company offers you a longer maternity/paternity leave, accepts that your hours be more flexible when you come back to work, offers you coaching to help you process these big changes but also simply recognizes that having a child doesn’t make you a liability for the company but rather an asset, that as a result you have developed new skills and that in some aspects it has enriched you as a human being.
That is why getting coached when you become a mother, a father, when you manage a parent or simply when you work with a new parent is essential to pass this crucial period smoothly.
It’s a reassessment of life, a transition and as such a great period to benefit from coaching.
Women in the workplace, 2018, McKinsey & Company
Lean in, women, work and the will to lead – Sheryl Sandberg