Don’t Call Me A Working Mum

A personal opinion piece by me – YOURGB Events CEO, Gilly Bain[1], who also happens to be a mum.

I’m writing this Op-Ed following the overwhelmingly kind response I received from my post on my Instagram @GillyWork following the birth of my second wee girl, Finty. She arrived on the 30th of September 2022, to meet us, her big sister Mackenzie, and the world in which we live.

When I look at my two girls, I see clean slates, bright minds, a purity and lightness. The reality of what this world ‘is’ isn’t in the reflection of their eyes yet and I feel an instinct to protect them from it. I worry about their exposure to the actuality of what’s happening to the world’s environment, police brutality, racial and homophobic attacks, women’s rights in Iran[2], earthquakes devastating the lives and families of millions of people, drug addiction, Ukraine, Putin… But what’s consuming me and making me sad right now, is the simple and gentle fact that my wee ones are girls, and why that may become a problem when it comes to their careers.

It’s a “her gender is a problem” scenario. Because whether or not you’re born female, if your gender identity and expression[3] are woman – if you are a woman – there are all sorts of assumptions and challenges that may flit and fly around you.

Why? Where to begin… I feel I am one of the luckiest people in this world. I wanted something, and it happened. I wanted babies, I had three, I lost[4] one. I am by all accounts #BLESSED[5]. I have a partner and two kids who I love to the moon and back and I own and love my business and the people I work with.

I am what is often referred to as, a ‘Working Mum’.
What even is that though? Do we hear people tootling about saying ‘I’m a working dad’?! What IS that?! In my eyes, I’m just a person that works, and I happen to have kids.

First off, I want to point out that this article is not about championing ‘women with kids that work’ so much as it is about advocating for the equality that we need to allow people, regardless of sex or gender, to choose what they would like to do in parenthood when it comes to their work. I’m personally acknowledging that in my view, the society and system in the UK currently works against mothers who would like to choose to work, be that during the first year of their baby arriving, or after. I know ‘stay at home mums’ and ‘stay at home dads’ (albeit v few of them) who choose to do so because they want to, not because they must. They are heroes in my eyes – parenting full time is tough – and they too are lucky, because having the choice is rare, and that is the ultimate goal here. Choice.

I also want to share that as I’m writing this, I’m worrying that this opinion piece may be misconstrued as a vent on my personal situation with my other half, and I think it’s important for me to make clear that it’s not. I am writing this with the full acknowledgment of my privilege, be that in terms of health, means, ethnicity, family, job, support network. My husband and I are 50|50 in parenting and home life and we prioritise the work that we do and the ambitions that we have equally. We mutually wanted to do shared Mat/Pat leave, but both times it didn’t work out. I also want to acknowledge that the Mat/Pat debate is very gender binary and I’m conscious that the language is consistently problematic. To my knowledge, when it comes to parental leave, there is little consideration for our non-binary[6] community at government level, which impacts the choices, policies, and language of companies across the UK. In my view neutrality sits with the core of what I’m discussing, and my personal views support it. I believe gender neutrality should, and that at some point it will, form the basis of all modern parental leave[7] policies – but I worry we are a long way off it. I own that I am not an expert in this field. I have reflected, listened, read and referenced as much as I can, but ultimately this article has been shaped around my own personal experience as a woman navigating parenthood and career, with input (and bags of inspiration) from the happenings that have been shared with me during my twenty-odd-years of working for and with women.

Let’s start here. In the research paper ‘Careers After Babies’[8] by the brilliant Jess Heagren and her team at That Works For Me (a flexi work phenomenon) around 98% of all mothers in the UK want to work. Pretty amazing stat. Their research also tells us that 85% of mothers leave full time work upon taking on a sprog, some of them want to, but most of them have to, and sadly 11% of these mums leave the workforce completely. Here is the clincher… women make up half of the population, and by the age of 40 a whopping 86% of them become mothers. This means we are losing the intellect, experience, creativity, leadership and logic of over 25,000 women from our UK workforce every single year, and my mind is BLOWN.

We talk about talent migration, talent shortage, the effects of Brexit and COVID – economic recovery… These are people that in the majority want to work – in the UK, but can’t. A 2022 study[9] by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP states that the UK would see an over $177 billion (their calc in USD) boost to our annual gross domestic product by increasing the female employment rate to that of Sweden[10], a trailblazer in the provision of early-years child care. The report tells us that women raising children essentially pay a ‘motherhood penalty’ in underemployment, slower career progression, and lower lifetime earnings. 

Personally, I chose to go back to work ‘early’ after both my girls, I was lucky to have the means to choose to do that. Both times because I wanted to. But both have been difficult for their own reasons. From what I’ve experienced, in this society unless you fit into the ‘comfortable’ box, there’s always some quiet judgement. What is socially comfortable in the world of a new baby and the mum’s time off? I reckon 9 months to a year of Mat leave, with dad working through. If you go back before 9 months, hand over primary care to your partner, or indeed you don’t go back to work after 12 months – I expect you feel softly judged for it.

For our first born, my husband had enhanced Pat Leave of 6 months full pay at his work with a Shared Leave condition. This meant that for him to go on Pat Leave I would have to go back to work, which I understand would enable his company to claim back via the government Shared Parental Leave[11] policy (this is a policy the gov whispered into being back in 2015 which was a step in the right direction). The Shared Leave had to be taken within the baby’s first 6 months. My personal view was this was fine for us, but I wondered about its more general utilisation. I know asking a mum to go back to work months, or even weeks, before their baby is even 24 weeks old is a big ask. I checked in with an employee at a different corporate with the same policy in Edinburgh and they said uptake there was 2%.

Just 2% of their fathers took any additional leave on top of the basic Statutory 2 weeks, and I couldn’t have been less surprised.

To me, it’s just one example of a ‘we are all about equality’ offering, that does very little for equality, because the implementers know the probability of uptake will be nominal. It’s as effective as putting ‘please think before you print’ on the bottom of your email signature and expecting your carbon footprint to reduce. 

In my view, if this same offering had followed suit with the Gov Shared Parental Leave approach and it was available to be taken across 12 months instead of within 6, there would be a marked improvement in uptake.

So in 2019, we were going to be in that minority 2%. I’d do 4 months, my partner would do 2 months, then our first-born Mackenzie would go into nursey at 6 months – which we were lucky enough to be in the position to afford. The reality was COVID hit when Mac was just turning 4 months old and… thank goodness we both have a good sense of humour!

With our recent second born Finty, things have been more complicated, mostly due to our careers moving in the right direction – a great problem that we are very lucky to have. My hub had made Partner in his firm by the time she’d arrived, and my business was twice the size. What created a challenge for us was that his Enhanced Shared Pat Leave reset to Statutory Paternity[12] upon making Partner. This meant him having to return to work after just 2 weeks which naturally had an adverse effect on my plans to return to work, and it led me to thinking…

People considered for Partnership tend to be the ages of 30 and 45[13]. Most people now have babies in their 30s[14], so when you’re looking at this cohort of people considering pursuing Partnership you can estimate that around 86% of them already are, or will one day try to become, parents. If successful, on average one gender will be off for 2 weeks per baby, and the other will be off for months. Surely this difference in absence plays into decision making. Surely this will affect when women even choose to be put forward for Partner in the first place.

I spoke with a senior Partner in a Scottish law firm about this, who is also a mum.

She has asked to remain anonymous:

She spoke to me about the fact that there is a trend around women delaying their Partnership campaign until after they try to/or have children. She acknowledged that the Partners who are mothers talk to each other about burnout being experienced via their efforts to try to keep up with men in the same position, who don’t appear to carry the same parental expectations and responsibilities that they do. When reflecting on her own journey and how far she has come, she told me sacrifices are made by all Partners and like her peers she has made many. The biggest sacrifice for her however, is gender specific, it’s the giving up on the second child she always thought she’d have, because the way things are she cannot see how she could have another baby whilst keeping herself on the same career trajectory. She hopes things change. She confirmed that the Partners who are men don’t generally take any Pat Leave other than the Statutory two weeks, and because of that, an absence of Maternity Leave would see her fall far behind in the rankings. She did say that law firms overall are talking a lot more about their ‘female leadership’ targets, but the consensus in their community is that not enough is being done. She ended our chat by telling me around half[15] of all lawyers are women, but “less than 30%[16]of Partners in Scotland are women and less than 5% of those women are under the age of 40. Making Partner as a woman is hard, staying Partner is harder.” 

I need to flag that I’m using the legal profession as an example here and it’s an interesting one – but the same issues apply just about everywhere I look. The essence of what I’m seeing is that a superb Enhanced Maternity Leave package at a corporate could look progressive and fair at the outset, but if the men don’t get offered as much leave, it’s a bit of a poisoned chalice. Ultimately the disparity will inhibit the progression of women in general at that company.

So, a few weeks ago, with the help of nursery and a childminder, I returned to work part time when Finty was 4 months old and with that I received flurries of sympathy. The truth was that I was happy about returning to work. I acknowledged in myself and my anxieties that trying to do both was too hard, and by creating space between work and baby made me a better mum, and a better boss. I know I love what I do, and it makes me feel ‘me’, and, to give an example, breastfeeding whilst discussing the business P&L with your accountant is trickier than it sounds.

Thus, I have been labelled a ‘Working Mum’ and I am being told that I’m ‘rocking it’, but it doesn’t sit right with me, and I want to try to explain why.

My viewpoint is that by branding me, and others like me, a ‘Working Mum’ it pops us in a box. We’ve become a stereotype of sweeping generalisations, and to me, I worry it’s also a bit of a ‘caution’ label. E.g., approach with caution, because she’ll probably arrive in a fluster and ideally would like to leave early for pick up, in her never-ending fight against ‘mum guilt’. She’ll be inflexible with holidays. She’ll have to be ‘off sick’ whenever the kids are, because her other half’s employer wouldn’t understand if he did it instead. She’s probably lost her confidence if she’s been off on mat leave, and she’ll apologise frequently. She has a brilliant mind but doesn’t recognise her full worth. She’d like flexibility with working hours because wrap around care is expensive and she can’t ask her parents to do much more than they already are. She considered not returning to work because nursery is so hideously expensive, but she’s doing it anyway, because work is ‘for her’.  She can be focussed and quiet, doesn’t often make it to team drinks, because time is not her friend, and she uses each second carefully. At home she approaches chores as if she doesn’t work. She remembers what it was like when she used to be a ‘Career Girl’, but she’s lost touch with who that was. Clients appreciate and need her experience. She often gets overlooked for promotion, she’s often paid less than she should be, and she’s often exhausted. She’s tired of day-to-day gender norms and would appreciate a little bit more equality everywhere around her.

Who then, is a ‘Working Dad’ I wonder? I don’t think there is a label for him, because at large the expectation on his hours, working habits and commitment to the role are expected to remain the same and not morph and melt overnight upon becoming ‘dad’. He likely wouldn’t be expected to drop what he’s doing and collect an ill child from nursery – and if he did, I feel that, even in this ripe old day and age, even the women he works with would raise their eyebrows in (hopefully pleasant) surprise.

Which brings me to ‘Career Girl’, her stereotypical label tells us that she has the optimal experience for the ‘big promotion’ consideration at work. She is punctual and organised. She’s probably in her thirties. She works really long hours, and she is proud of being a business woman. She travels. Thirsty Thursday post work drinks? She’ll be there and she probably negotiated the VIP section and some comp drinks for everyone. She knows her rights, she knows her worth. She is smart. Clients love her. She knows what she wants, and she is heading in the right direction to get it.

But this woman. This amazing human comes with another weightier tag. She is the person I tell, when they are going to interview anywhere, that ‘it’s ok to not wear your engagement ring’ or ‘It’s ok to avoid questions about your personal life. It’s ok to give them the impression you are nowhere NEAR thinking about babies.’ Because I know ‘Career Girl’, and I know her gender is a problem.

According to a UK study last year by EMW only 204,000[17] of fathers took paternity leave in 2021/22, so that’s a third of dads choosing not to even take 2 weeks. Flip to the 636,000 mothers who took mat leave. For employers, which gender do we think may be considered the least problematic hiring or promotion option? 

Another issue is that you can only get Statutory Maternity Pay if you have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks continuing into the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth. Why is that a big deal? It’s because it effectively stagnates women by inhibiting them from leaving their companies whilst they try to get pregnant, and contrary to what they taught us in school (touch penis = have baby), it’s very often not that easy. In most circumstances it takes longer than you think it will – years in some cases, and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all[18], and other parenthood options[19] also take time. As an example, one mistimed egg fertilisation coupled with a new opportunity at a different company could result in a woman falling off the Statutory cliff, and any enhanced offering she could have had disappears into thin air, at which point in blows the replacement – the naughty step of mat pay – ‘Statutory Maternity Allowance’[20]. The question here is what difference does it make to the government regarding how long a woman has been employed by a company, surely as long as she is employed when she goes off to become a parent[21], she should be entitled to Statutory. If that were the case then employers could claim it back regardless of the ‘qualifying week’, and the onus would be on them to decide what their own cut offs are on any enhanced offerings.

I feel the inequality issue is circular and layered, it’s like Sellotape. I’m using my nail to repetitively try to find the start of it all and after several false starts I’ve eventually caught the end and I’m following it around. It’s a very sticky business and just when I think I’ve got it, it starts splitting off, and I start again. For me it splices whenever I get to thinking about women in their 30s and how they come with a flight risk that their male counterparts do not. With women there are assumptions – it is assumed that they could want a baby, and they could disappear for months, and they could come back as ‘Working Mum’. Because of these assumptions, women are fading into the background just as the top of our game is coming into view. The things that are rubbing us out seem to be a gross mix of the lack of decent Pat and Shared Leave and the scarcity of uptake on what’s there so far, childcare costs, gender role expectations, and lack of flexibility at work. There is no wonder why there are not enough women ‘at the top’. There is no wonder that there is a gender pay gap in fact, it’s because we aren’t bloody there, we’ve literally fallen – through – a gap.

So, in my opinion until we are all an equal flight risk at work in terms of parenthood, regardless of sex or how we identify – there will be little chance of equality in any workplace or at home. 

Wouldn’t it be great if the UK & Scottish government took inspiration from equality leading countries like Norway[22], who since 1993 pushed to normalise equal childcare by dividing parental leave into three parts – one part for the mother, one part for the partner and one part that can freely be divided between both parents. They have created a culture where there is no ‘primary caregiver’ and it’s reflected in their economy and statistics regarding gender equality[23] in the workplace. This sea change would naturally influence UK companies to follow suit in terms of equalising their enhanced offerings – we could all be of equal flight risk.

Here’s a mind-blowing curveball for you, I was reading about a study[24] Bath Uni completed last year, because I know there are many couples where the female is the leading breadwinner. It occurred to me that of the couples I know personally in this position, the women still do the ducking out for ill children, the running of the household, the lion’s share of the chores etc. Here’s the headline of that study… ‘Married mothers who earn more than their husbands take on an even greater share of housework’. Wowsers. This indicates that we are so entrenched in gender norms women actually compensate for success, and we wonder why burnout is costing UK employers almost £35 billion[25] a year.

Whilst we’re on the subject of unconscious gender bias, it’s worth also thinking about it at a grass roots level. Whilst we all try to navigate children away from the likes of the content produced by the heinous Andrew Tate[26], let’s also help counteract it by letting kids see that home running is not ‘women’s work’. It’s just not the 1940s anymore, and together we can change the narrative. It may just make a difference for the children of today who one day become ‘Working Mums’ and wouldn’t it be amazing if that ‘Working Mum’ label had peeled off by then and it all just mattered less? Likewise, let’s consider avoiding language like ‘daddy day care’ and dads ‘babysitting’ their own children, it’s nonsensical. On the job side of things, when we interview somewhere, instead of quietly looking into what their Mat Leave policy is, let’s focus also on Pat Leave, Shared and Neutral policies – are we all on a level playing field? Lastly, I think it’s worth mentioning (!) that being a woman does NOT actually make you better at changing kids’ nappies. Restaurants, cafes, shops – you need to listen. If you have gender specified toilets[27] and ONLY have a changing table in the ‘female’ toilets, you are part of the problem. It’s laughably archaic and face slappingly sexist, dads do entertain their kids alone, and think about single dads or two dad families?

In the meantime, whilst we wait for hundreds of years of misogyny, and the heteronormativity that often accompanies it, to soak off – how can we take the sting out of this situation for the mothers that wish to work right now?

In my opinion and from everything I’ve read, it’s flexible working and lower costs of childcare. These two things are what will help the women with children that would choose to be back in the workplace, to get back in there to contribute their sensational minds and skills to our economy and start bridging that gap. Offering flexible working and pushing for lower costs of childcare are the only practical things we can do whilst we wait for society to perk up.

Many women have explained to me that working earns them little extra money when they deduct nursery fees they’d need to pay just to go to work. I would consider most of these women to be in well paid jobs and most have an earning other half. The situation will be unbearable for single parents and low-income families. Additionally, being parents of multiples – twins, triplets – exasperates the situation even further as there is absolutely no additional support for them[28].

The UK has one of the most expensive[29] childcare systems in the world. As an example, if you have two kids under the age of 3 at nursery full time, you’re looking at spending over £24k[30] per year. General government support only comes in to play when children turn 3 years old. These support schemes[31] differ across the UK but as an example at age 3, 30 hrs per week is funded in Scotland and 15 hours as standard in England[32] with help available sooner to families on benefits. In my view, it’s just not enough and government need to better subsidise to support returns to work, especially before the child is the age of 3.

When the kids get to school age, what then? School finishes before the working day does (who in world decided that school should finish before work – it feels as if it facilitates gender norms) and in the majority it’s women that are expected to do the early pick-ups, just look around yourself when you’re at the school gates. Wrap around care? There isn’t enough of it on offer and it’s expensive, so unless you are a very high earner, or the company you work for can offer you flexible hours to accommodate pick-ups etc, it’s futile.

Without these things addressed, do these mothers have any other options? Any suggestions? What do they do now?

Ah yes of course.

Research[33] from Age UK last year suggested 40% of grandparents over the age of 50, that’s about five million of them, now provide regular childcare. In the words of Anna Whitehouse (aka Mother_Pukka) in her interview with The Times[34] “it was no-other-option care”. So for many women, in their efforts to return to work and to make it a remotely financially viable option, require the free childcare of the grandparents. If they’re lucky enough to have them around.

And in general, of the grandparents, who do we think does the lion’s share of that childcare? You guessed it.

She too, is a woman. 

Wham bam, thank you Gran.


#EqualityInTheWorkplace #BreakTheBias #GenderPayGap #SharedParentalLeave #EmbraceEquity #IWD2023 #YOURGB


[1]Gilly launched YOURGB in 2011 to give event design and management a clean slate, and a fresh perspective. Prior to event life her field of study and work was performance art, and this passion resonates within the audience centric and creative approach that YOURGB still has to this day.

Gilly has an unrivalled energy and passion for the events profession. She consciously set out to create an events ‘company’ – not an ‘agency’ – because she wanted to break away from the culture she experienced in agencies across Edinburgh and London. She believed she could do it differently – and she has.

YOURGB has been built upon being committed to doing their best for their clients, for each other and for the planet. They are creative to the core and believe in fresh ideas and diverse opinions. They are proud to be human beings who are eclectic, fallible, and authentic. YOURgb champion being brave because they have the experience to dare, and it’s fun to fly. Lastly, and often most importantly, they are kind. They lead with empathy and deliver with their whole hearts.

Gilly believes that her profession not only has the power to inspire those that attend events, but also those that work on them. She loves her team, and she is a thoughtful mentor. She is a passionate supporter of women in the workplace, and she’s on a mission to push YOURGB towards their Net Zero target, they are proud to have been recently certified as Carbon Neutral. Along with climate change, Gilly also believe that helping others is the responsibility of all, and as such YOURGB donates to charity after every single event they deliver, and they always have.

The  YOURGB clients are wonderfully eclectic but what they have in common is that they all identify with the  YOURGB values. Their clients include brands such as World Health Organisation, Penguin Books, Netflix, TSB, Ooni, Pride of Britain, Walker’s Shortbread, Royal Highland Show, Harley Davidson, The List, Edrington, Women 4 Climate…

To them and for them, YOURGB are a collective of creative thinkers, event creators and innovative marketeers who work collaboratively with them to generate ideas and turn them into reality… and their clients say they are really good at it.

Instagram: @GillyWork
Committed – Creative – Brave – Kind – Human

A policy for miscarriage and termination is required in all workplaces. There’s a bill making its way through parliament now called The Miscarriage Leave Bill, that would see to it that you get 3 days leave if you personally physically miscarry – by law. It’s not everything we need, but it’s a start.
Companies also need to consider policies when it comes to IVF, egg freezing and general fertility treatment – they can’t just be ‘sick days’, they require support and understanding.
Post with #Blessed at your own peril by the way, and if you need context for why give yourself a giggle and some light relief by reading ‘Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up’ by Alexandra Potter.
[6] – thought this was a great video to assist with understanding
[7]YOURgb currently offers a 4 month fully paid Shared Parental Leave policy, regardless of gender, after the first two weeks the parent can take 14 weeks at any time in the first 12 months of the child’s arrival, regardless of how the child arrived. We are committed to continuing to evolve our policy as we grow.
From my experience Stat 2 weeks for dad is not enough. I don’t know any first-time parents who didn’t really struggle with it. You are both sleep deprived, and most are still processing the shock of birth. Equally, most mothers that have carried the child are injured from delivery and are still in recovery at this point. After two weeks you are just beginning to find your feet figuring out this little fragile human, and then suddenly, after what feels like a couple of days, the dad exits and you’re suddenly on your own. It’s a vulnerable time.
[16] 17
[21]The same qualifying window applies to Parental Leave, but due to the disparity in Stat offerings, and enhanced, men generally have far less to ‘lose’ if they miss this window – they are far more mobile in the workplace due to this.
Additional government support isn’t provided if you have multiples. Via the lobbying work of my good friend Jennifer Edmonstone (Solicitor, mum of twins and Seminar Lead for Twins Trust) SPs have heard that in addition to a high-risk pregnancy and birth, 68% of twins and 95% of triplets are born prematurely compared to 7% of all births. Through her work I now know that 52% of twins require extra time in hospital, with further medical care once discharged a common consequence of premature birth. In addition to this, we learnt that post-natal depression and relationship breakdown are more prevalent in families with multiples, and 80% of mothers of twins or triplets don’t/can’t breastfeed compared to 60% of singleton mothers. Formula is expensive, and that’s not to mention the further cost implications of two in nursery at the same time, or the cost of buying two of everything each multiple specifically needs. How do multiple mums that want to work, ever get back to work?

Read More


It’s Sorry Not Sorry, this International Women’s Day


Stay In the Loop!

Sign up to our quarterly newsletter to find out more about our latest events and exciting projects!