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Women, like men, only cheaper.

The days of industrial hours working and bums-in-seats mentality need to be put behind us all. This approach simply doesn’t fit with today’s working cultures or with how we live, parent and work. It’s time for some new approaches and fresh thinking. Here Claire Fry, Founding Partner of the Juggling Act, talks pay gaps, parenting and what can be done to address these crucial issues.

As we approach the second gender pay gap reporting deadline on the 4th of April, society continues to ask the question: why does there continue to be such a gap between male and female salaries and bonuses? How we pay (or don’t pay) working mothers is a big piece of the puzzle.

The history of pay gaps

First a little background. Gender Pay Gap Reporting came into force in April 2018. Employers with 250 or more employees are required by law to publish their figures comparing men and women’s average pay across the organisation. This legislation is in contrast to The Equal Pay Act, from 1970, which made it illegal to pay women lower rates than men for the same work. The Equal Pay Act is known informally as ‘equal pay, for equal work’.

Gender Pay Gap Reporting looks instead at the measure of the difference between men’s and women’s average earnings across an organisation or sector. It is expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings. In other words, if most of your support staff are women and most of your leadership team is male, you’re going to have a big gender pay gap.

The part-time myth

In my consulting work through Pale Blue Coaching I work with organisations to help them close their gender pay gaps in a variety of ways. Now through our research for The Juggling Act, Lucy, Chris and I are seeing a continued theme: companies are pro-rating pay (and bonuses) for working mothers who are theoretically only working 3 or 4 days a week, but in fact the reality is very different. In her book, ‘Becoming’, the fabulous Michelle Obama describes the situation succinctly:

“What I didn’t realise-and this would also go into my file of things many of us learn too late – is that a part-time job, especially when it’s meant to be a scaled-down version of your previously full-time job, can be something of a trap. Or at least that’s how it played out for me. At work, I was still attending all the meetings I always had while also grappling with most of the same responsibilities. The only real difference was that I now made half my original salary and was trying to cram everything into a twenty-hour week”.

What I didn’t realise-and this would also go into my file of things many of us learn too late – is that a part-time job, especially when it’s meant to be a scaled-down version of your previously full-time job, can be something of a trap. Or at least that’s how it played out for me. At work, I was still attending all the meetings I always had while also grappling with most of the same responsibilities. The only real difference was that I now made half my original salary and was trying to cram everything into a twenty-hour week”

Michelle Obama, Becoming

Ending the pro-rating penalty

At the Juggling Act we want to see organisations ending the practice of pro-rating pay for working parents. In fact, for any employee who wants to spend slightly less time in the office. As long as the individual is delivering on stretch targets against a fully-scoped role, this will be a positive thing for all involved. So many mothers – and an increasing number of fathers – tell us how they technically work 4 out of 5 days, but that actually no one else is picking up the other elements of their role. It doesn’t get distributed to other team members. So where does it go?

Often, the answer is nowhere. It stays with you. It’s a huge negative contributor to the #genderpaygap as a result. Time and time again we hear about how working mothers are logging in every chance they get: on the weekends, when the kid(s) are in bed, when the person’s partner is around, or whenever they can snatch a moment (or several hours). It’s the female advertising exec going into the office on a Sunday (!) the fund manager-mother writing a client presentation well into the night, the HR director getting up before her toddler does to sneak in a few precious hours of email catch-up. It’s not doing the work itself – all parents know you just have to juggle as best you can with small children – it’s the not getting paid for it.

The days of industrial hours working and bums-in-seats mentality need to be put behind us all. It doesn’t fit with today’s working cultures or with how we live, parent and work. It’s time for some new approaches and fresh thinking. Anna Whitehouse’s fantastic #flexappeal campaign is a making huge in-roads to the kind of change that is needed, but getting paid for the work, however it is achieved, is the crucial next step. Child care costs a fortune, let’s stop short-changing the great employees we have, just because they happen to be parents.

#workingparents #getpaidforwhatyoudo #stopproratingpay 

Why the Juggling Act?

In 2017, shortly before their sons were born, both Claire and Lucy attended pre-natal classes with their spouses through Bump & Baby Club,
the leading independent provider of antenatal classes in London. Here they developed friendships with other working mothers. As everybody’s babies grew, the late-night whatsapp chats between them changed from conversations about feeding, burping and swaddling towards going back to work. Many of the parents shared the same conundrums:

  • Did they want to work flexibly or go back full time?
  • Could they transition slowly?
  • Would they be discriminated against or be pushed out for being parents, perhaps not able to offer the same unilateral focus to their work as they had previously?
  • And what about the exhaustion, the logistics and the guilt? 

Not a single person felt entirely confident about this next step. Some felt unsupported by their employers. Some were really excited about going back but were worried about the endless logistics.

It didn’t take long for Claire to realise she wanted to use her coaching and culture background to support these women, and the organisations they work for. She wanted the programme to help shift the culture more widely, to lead to higher quality conversations between employee and employer, conversations about how things could be better in the workplace (and at home) for both parties. Looking to partner with other coaches and trusted friends, people with complimentary skills and a different slant on things, she founded The Juggling Act with Lucy Fry and Chris White in May 2018.

Juggling Act Research

So, they knew work re-entry was proving challenging for them, their friends and their family members with children, but they wanted to know more. What were women really facing? What were their greatest challenges? To gain further insight and ensure The Juggling Act was targeting the real issues for women returning to work they ran a survey and received over 100 responses from all over the English-speaking world. Peoples’ challenges varied to some degree, but the key themes included:


It was a struggle to to find a new routine. The heartache of leaving my child when they are poorly, irritable, tired, all of the above. I feel bad leaving work late as I feel I need to rush home and collect my kid.

I want to be good at my job and good as a parent but I don’t have the time for both. I have to do a lot of work outside of work and I can’t. I don’t want to start working again at 9pm after I’ve eaten dinner because my child wouldn’t go to bed at 7pm.

Survey respondent
  • Feelings of guilt: about leaving kids, about working too much, about not working enough. There was guilt about enjoying work and guilt about not enjoying it.
  • Knocked confidence, low confidence, no confidence
  • Endless context-switching: from sometimes joyful, sometimes mind-numbing parenting to running meetings, writing papers, making presentations.


Guilt over leaving my baby is always in the back of my mind. I love my career but as there have been so many issues returning to work I feel it even more I think. I also think it’s getting in to a new routine – I really miss maternity leave… I had a strong group of mummy friends that I saw four times a week.

It’s weird not having that support network there in the same way. Regarding work specifically, I find the lack of hand over and communication about expectations really frustrating.

  • Fatigue! The tiredness, so much tiredness.
  • Many cases of women juggling everything at home and pursuing a career with not enough support from their partner, and those single mothers with no partner to support at all.
  • Bungled returns to work, with little to no prep or consideration from employers – and those who had not prepared or considered their own return to their organisation.
  • Not enough time to think or consider what they would need for themselves to make a success of their return to work
  • Struggles with boundaries, especially saying no.


I asked for part time hours, which I got, but my role never actually changed, so I ended up doing a full time job with part time hours/salary.

Survey respondent

The Juggling Act is a coaching and consultancy service that facilitates better communication and collaboration between employers and parents returning to work. It is a programme of coaching and workshops that provides the time and space, challenge and support to work through what matters most to women returning to work, amidst the circus that is their lives.

#backtoworkandbetterthanever#balhammums#southlondonmamas#parenthood#jugglejuggle#thejugglingact#jugglejuggletoilwithlesstrouble#2019goals#timeforyou#businesspartners#feministkilljoy#changeiscoming#heforshe#womenhelpingwomen#femaleleaders

Thinking creatively about parental leave… and returning to work!

From Reed Global

*or 90% of your salary, whichever is lower. 

That’s what that asterisk refers to that you can’t see in the image above (from @reedglobal). That’s right, £136.78/week or 90% of your salary…whichever is lower

Stauatory Leave vs. Organisational Policies.

Stauatory Maternity Leave (SML) and Shared Parental Leave (SPL) financial terms, as set by the government, are a complete joke. While it’s good that the UK has some provisions for statutory leave (in the strictest sense of ‘better than nothing’), the reality is that it’s actually on very poor terms indeed. What SML – and since April 2015 SPL – actually provide is a legal starting point in the minds of employers and employees. Something that says, ‘hey organisations! when someone becomes a parent in your company here’s your legal obligation to them. What you do or don’t do over and above that is your call’. That’s right it’s up to the organisations and their people to decide on the structure and terms of leave, flexible working and transition agreements. It’s a negotiation between parties with different aims, hopes and requirements to find a solution that works for all. The government has merely provided legal grounds. The rest is down to organisational culture. 

For maternity leave, paternity leave and shared parental leave, when you’re planning family and career you really need to think about what you can negotiate with your employer, or perhaps both of your employers (yours and your partner’s where possible), as to what your ideal leave/return/sharing/transition set-up would look like, and what cards you have to play on both sides.

All too often through our work at The Juggling Act programme we see women who are already working extremely hard, then having child(ren) and saying, “well is it really worth it for me to go back to work? Given that after child care costs my salary only brings in X”. The reality is that for those families where there are two parents in the picture, it should be a calculation based on household income, household needs and ideals and not be mentally debited from only the mother.


All too often through our work at The Juggling Act programme we see women who are already working extremely hard, then having child(ren) and saying, “well is it really worth it for me to go back to work? Given that after child care costs my salary only brings in X”. The reality is that for those families where there are two parents in the picture, it should be a calculation based on household income, household needs and ideals and not be mentally debited from only the mother.

Looking at the Whole Picture. 

There are lots of great reasons for looking at leave, parenting responsibilities, career development, promotion and pay as a whole household, and as part of long-term strategy for organisations, but here are a few. With more new mothers returning to the workforce than ever before and almost three-quarters of women with children in full- or part-time work, it’s unsurprising that there is huge talent and therefore opportunity, sitting within this ever-growing pool of working mothers. For the mothers themselves, looking at what’s left after childcare costs for only one salary ignores the opportunity cost of the longer term benefits of going back to work. In other words, yes it’s a nightmare juggling act at times, especially with very young children, but as time goes on and the kid(s) go to school and eventually leave home altogether, parents will have more and more time and energy to devote to work. Or put another way, when parents first go back to work after baby – that’s the hardest bit. The reality is that although it takes time, career prospects and time to devote to work will only increase and become easier. Having your hat in the ring now is what counts, it’s what gives you the chance to be around for opportunities later. For employers this means reaping the benefits of highly motivated, highly experienced, highly focused parents who are through the most challenging parts of juggling career and kids. You trusted them, you invested in them, they stuck with you. Everyone wins.

Structuring Leave Creatively.

 Because of the way the law is set out and then any company policies on top of that, it can be tempting to just go along with it. Or to assume it will be best to take as much time with as much pay as your organisation will allow. And in some cases this will absoutely make sense. For others they feel there is a sort of ‘feast or famine’ aspect to taking a whole year. One minute you’re having coffee with other mums, dads and babies, deeply immersed in all things little people, and the next you’re expected to dump them in nursery and entirely switch your focus back to work.

So what might a smart transition look like? For some (and I am one of them), 2 or 3 months completely off to heal and bond with baby, followed by a phased return, starting to take on a project or two and gradually build back up can be a great option. Whatever is best for you and your family, there are two key things to keep in mind here: 

1. Everything is a negotiation. 

This goes for both sides. A negotiation is not a bad thing, quite the opposite. Assume nothing, break away from traditional mindsets, put yourself in your employer’s shoes and think about what you can offer – or compromise on – to help them, so you can get the non-negotiables you and your family need too. There’s a win-win in there somewhere, if you are serious about building an incredible career at a pivotal time in your life, it is worth the effort to find it. 

2. Be creative.

The most successful leave, transition, return/flex structures we’ve seen have also been a little ‘out there’, there’s been some thinking outside the box from both sides – employer and employee – and it has resulted in an agreement that really suited both sides. Empathy is displayed. Listening happens. Possibility steps in. These are the conversations that have been open and honest, equal, non-defensive and results-driven. The respect the employee gains for the employer is huge, and vice-versa. It makes both sides want to do better and be better for the success of the organisation. And eventually, there will be no ‘sides’ at all. Just people. Just organisations. Trying to be better, more innovative, more successful, more customer-centric, more equal. That’s the Juggling Act vision. 

#sharedparentalleave #planningparentalleave #structuringparentalleave #winwin #considerbothsides #becreative #everythingisnegotiable #loveworkloveparenting #organisationaldevelopment