How a lack of flexible working options has forced almost one in five mums out of work

"People sometimes say that being a mother is the world’s most important job, but sometimes the way the world treats mothers does not reflect that," notes presenter Yassmin Abdel-Magied at the start of the first episode of our new Breaking Barriers podcast.

The series sees Yassmin guide us through a frank and intimate set of conversations between those who hold power in sought-after industries and the people struggling to find employment due to barriers - such as having a disability, holding refugee status or gender discrimination - in their chosen sector.

First up we listen in as Alison meets Dan. Renowned educator and CEO of the Woodland Academy Trust, Dan Morrow, manages over 250 people across four schools in England. Alison Golding is a volunteer at one of the schools under Dan’s leadership. Here the pair meet up at the primary school where Alison volunteers, for a revealing discussion about the obstacles to employment that motherhood, gender and mental health problems can present.

But what did the episode teach us?

  • The career break penalty problem is rife. As the headline says, a shocking statistic to come to light in recent years is that almost one in five mums in the UK have been forced to leave their job due a to a flexible working request being turned down. It’s clear that if barriers to employment for mothers are going to be lifted then removing the career break penalty should be a crucial first step. For further reading on the research behind this number you can head over to
  • A cultural shift still needs to take place. "Research shows that mothers with young children are now more likely to go back to work than mothers were 20 years ago," explains Yassmin. "However the same data shows that many mothers feel stuck, with 36 per cent claiming to being felt negatively judged by friends and family for going to work and 53 per cent felt judged for claiming benefits."
  • Data only tells half the story. While statistics can be incredibly useful in painting a broad picture of a particular issue, what the conversation at the centre of this episode brought home was the importance of speaking to the people behind the numbers - especially if they have a different set of experiences to your own. Nobody will ever be completely defined by their gender, age, a disability or their job title. Through opening up to each other Alison and Dan discovered they had much more in common than they may have previously thought, meaning they were both able to offer some valuable insights to one another on how to continue breaking down the barriers they both face.
Dan and Alison sit discuss their own personal career barriers

This week sees the release of the second episode of the series, which focuses on neurodiversity. You can search Breaking Barriers and subscribe on Apple PodcastsPocket CastCastbox or where ever you get your podcasts from.


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