What it’s like to be treated differently as a young mum

Sunday 26 March 2017

sophie2As a young mother, I never thought looking for work would be so hard. But my experience and Young Women’s Trust's recent research shows that there are still so many barriers for us. After all, I was proving that young mothers really wanted to work. Sadly, my experience sometimes made me wonder if I really should be applying for jobs or going to work if this was how employers were treating young mothers but I really wanted to work and I wanted to be able to support my family. 

In my first job interview after university, I was asked what my achievements were. Without thinking of the consequences, I said that one of my achievements was studying while caring for a baby. This was something that had equipped me with strong skills, like time management, budgeting skills and better people skills. Until that moment, the atmosphere in the room had been great. I was making them laugh and it felt more like a conversation than an interview. As soon as I mentioned my child, however, the atmosphere changed. And after a few brisk questions, it was over. I knew I wasn't going to get the job even before I received the call the next day. The interviewer said I was the perfect candidate but I had "too much baggage" to undertake such a demanding job. I knew exactly what they meant by 'baggage'. It took me nine months to get my first proper job and never mentioned my kids in any other interviews. It made me feel guilty to have to hide such a beautiful thing but I needed to get a job.

In my first job after that, nobody knew I had a kid until a few weeks after I started. I had learned my lesson, thank you very much! But just when I thought I had overcome one hurdle, another one came in the form of flexibility. Due to my previous experiences, I was really worried about mentioning my children to my employer and at first I didn’t dare to ask for flexible working as a result.

Before my employers knew about my children, I was free to go home early if there was a problem at home that I needed to deal with and I had completed my work. However, the moment my line manager found out that I had children, he changed! He started noting down the time I arrived at work. I asked if I could work through my lunch hour, so I could leave early to help my eldest child with her school homework and classes but that was refused.

In the next job after that, when I cautiously asked for flexible working after a couple of months, it was given to me on a plate. My employer was so much more understanding and that made it easier to balance my work with caring for my children. I was more productive at work when I wasn’t having to constantly worry about my children and I felt a lot happier.

It isn’t easy being a young mother and working, especially when some managers make it difficult unnecessarily. I struggled for two years but I persevered because I really wanted to work!

The reality is that everyone benefits from helping young mums like me who want to work. It gives us the ability to support our families financially, means businesses can gain from the skills we’ve picked up from being a mum and means we can contribute to the economy. It’s time that employers valued young mums and stopped discriminating against us.

Sophie Kathir

Read Young Women's Trust's report, 'What Matters to Young Mums?'