Over two in five working mothers believe that being a parent is holding them back from promotions at work. 

As part of National Work Life Week, a new study by Working Families reveals that a sizeable amount of working mothers (41 per cent) say being a parent is holding them back from career promotions.

For professionals with additional caring responsibilities, including looking after a sick, elderly or disabled family member, this number rose to half (50 per cent).

This problem linked to balancing different areas of life has also extended to other parts of the workplace, including working hours.

According to respondents, over a third (38 per cent) reported that the people who work the longest hours are the most respected by senior leaders in their organisation.

This behaviour glorifying working long hours may be coming from the top down with nearly half (44 per cent) of working parents disagreeing that the senior leaders in their organisation are positive role models for achieving a good work-life balance. 

However, despite this – and previous studies suggesting that working from home has blurred the lines between work and life – there seems to have been some positive changes brought about over the past year and a half.

Notably, workplace culture has seemed to change for the better, over two-fifths (41 per cent) of working parents reported.

Similarly, open conversations about wellbeing and mental health have become more accepted at work now than they were before the pandemic, around half of professionals noted.

The research did show concerns, however, that these benefits were only temporary measures brought about by the pandemic.

Over a third (36 per cent) of working parents, and almost half (48 per cent) of carers say now that lockdown is over, they are concerned taking time off for caring needs will be frowned upon at work. 

As such, the study encourages employers to:

  • Make sure that the culture of the organisation, and the performance management process used, values and rewards outputs, rather than focusing on hours worked or place of work, as well as actively discouraging presenteeism 

  • Make sure they’re providing training specifically for line managers in how to support parents and carers, and how to get the best from teams working in a variety of flexible ways 

  • Actively work to raise awareness of wellbeing and mental health in staff teams, and have a range of support available for staff to access 

Jane van Zyl, CEO of Working Families, said: 

It’s depressing to see that – in 2021 – so many women still find that being a parent stops them getting promoted at work.

While increasingly high numbers of managers and leaders recognise the benefits of family-friendly ways of working, there are still pockets of resistance across sectors.

Faced with a choice between an employer who puts effort into employee wellbeing and one that celebrates unhealthy working practices, I think we can all guess where the best and brightest talent is going to go.

This National Work Life Week, we want to encourage employers to build back from COVID with increased focus on helping their teams get the balance between work and home right, and use it as an opportunity to have some open conversations with their employees about the change they want to see.


*This research was obtained from YouGov Plc. 755 GB parents, who were either working or on flexi-furlough, and had children 18 or under were asked to respond to the survey. An additional 105 of these had caring responsibilities.  Fieldwork was undertaken between 25th – 26th August 2021.