Helen Nugent

Never mind the gap, what about working women who decide not to have children?

Never mind the gap, what about working women who decide not to have children?
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There's nothing like the issue of the gender wage gap to get people going.

Research published yesterday by the Institute of Fiscal Studies revealed that women earn 18 per cent less than men on average. The IFS also found that the gap widens after women have children, raising the prospect that mothers are missing out on pay rises and promotions.

According to the Institute, the pay differential widens consistently for 12 years after a first child is born, by which point women receive 33 per cent less pay an hour than men. Although the IFS points out that is partly because women who return to work often do so in a part-time capacity.

Well, colour me surprised. Women returning to work part-time earn less than men? What will they think of next.

It's deeply unpopular to say so, particularly as I am a working woman with personal experience of the male/female pay disparity, but I have no problem with the fairer sex earning less cash after childbirth - if they decide that five days a week is no longer for them. The vast majority of professional women I know who rejoined the rat race after having children either cut down on their hours or were allowed to work at least one day from home.

As someone who has no intention of having kids, I'm not entirely happy with this situation; this special treatment for people who have made an active choice to change their lifestyle. It's a bit like the way smokers are allowed endless time away from their desks for fag breaks while the rest of us have to keep on toiling.

I also know women who have deliberately taken a well-paying job because of the company's generous maternity allowance, signing on the dotted line in the full knowledge that as soon as their contract permits, they'll be off having babies ad infinitum.

I want to support mothers in the workplace, I really do. My sister is one of them. My mum was one of them. But it's hard to do that when, oh, as a childless woman you're not allowed time off during school holidays because women with families get priority.

A recent experience has further coloured my view. I run a small business with a handful of staff where every penny counts. When I hired a marketing manager, I was glad to appoint a woman, someone with a great CV who filled me with confidence. Less than three months into her role, she told me she was pregnant. After that, she pretty much downed tools. Then, a few weeks before giving birth, she announced she was leaving and never coming back. To say I was annoyed doesn't begin to cover it.

It pains me to say it, but this has made me hesitate over replacing her with another woman of child-bearing age. I find it easier to work with women, I prefer working with women, but as a employer I've come to accept that it might not be the most prudent of options.

Helen Nugent is Online Money Editor of The Spectator