Motherhood is arguably the most significant turning point in a woman’s career.
When one becomes a mother, work will be impacted in one way or another. She has to either work fewer hours, take on more family-friendly jobs, or give up her career to be a stay-at-home mum.
According to the Ministry of Manpower’s Labour Force Survey 2018, the vast majority of Singaporean women outside the labour force in their 30s (81%) and 40s (82%) were not looking for a job.
This was largely due to family responsibilities — the most common reason cited by respondents in their 30s (56.5%) was childcare.
Does motherhood bias exist in Singapore?
Madam Leong, 36, mother of two kids aged six and nine, said that she quit her job in the financial industry when she was expecting her second child.
She took a four-year break so she “could be there for [her] kids in their growing years”.
Once her firstborn was of schooling age, she decided to return to work to help supplement the family’s household income.
“Relying on my husband alone to support our family of four is getting tough. Childcare expenses, as we know, is not cheap,” she lamented.
However, finding a job after that career gap proved to be a huge struggle.
Despite sending out several job applications, only two companies responded, but both turned her down after the first round of interviews.
Recounting one of the interview sessions, she recalled the employer saying that they “cannot afford to have employees who continually take time off work” — a statement which she felt was a shot at the childcare leave benefit, mothers are entitled to.
She only managed to find a job in the banking sector six months later, through the help of a career fair targeted at women organised by career portal Mums@work.
“I can’t afford to quit my job”
Relating to the struggles of finding a job after a career gap, Mrs Rai, 32, who works as a marketing executive for five years now, said that although she wanted to be a stay-at-home mother to raise her three-year-old kid, she “can’t afford to quit [her] job”.
“I feel that if I quit my job then, I would have trouble finding a job later. Employers are hesitant to hire someone who has had a career gap, and I’m just afraid that I will be deemed less relevant, although the fact is that my skills and experience does not diminish over time.”
Another concern that she had was pay.
Since salaries are typically pegged to the last-drawn full-time salary, she didn’t want her “pay to remain stagnant” when she rejoins the workforce a few years down the road.
As highlighted in MOM’s Labour Force Survey, the difference in the average monthly salary of women in their early 30s and 40s is $500, while the corresponding figure for men is $1,500.
Contrary to the belief that the gender pay gap starts at the onset of both men’s and women’s careers, the MOM report noted that the gap appears to start only in the 30s (i.e. when women typically start to have children) and continues for the rest of their lives.
Re-integration in the Workforce is a two-way street
In contrast, single mother Ms Tanesha, 26, said that re-entering the workforce has been seamless in her case, citing her young age as a possible reason.
“But I would also like to think that my employer is just being objective and hiring me based on my merits. My background as a mother, or single mother, should not affect the hiring decision,” she said firmly.
Ms Tanesha used to work as a graphic designer for a homegrown startup and promptly tendered her resignation, following the birth of her newborn.
Two years later, she decided to apply to another firm as a graphic designer.
She had mass-applied to creative agencies and was lucky enough to be accepted after just one round of interviews.
She trusts that her relevant experience and strong portfolio played a huge role in helping her get hired.
She has been with the company for two years now, and is thankful that her “company is progressive and family-friendly”.
For instance, her office features in-house maternity facilities and she was free to take some time off work to express milk.
Her company also allows employees to work from home and bring their kids to work. To add on, she is entitled to 10 days of paid childcare leave annually, up from the standard six days as per MOM regulation.
On her end, she makes sure that she manages the boss’ expectations of her so there is no misalignment.
“During the job interview, I mentioned that because I send my kid to a childcare centre, I cannot knock off from work too late. Laying out my request beforehand helps a lot, and thankfully my boss is very understanding and flexible,” she said.