Career or Motherhood, Do Women Still Have to Choose?


Being only 20 years old I never thought that question of whether to have a career or a family would cross my mind. When I started university I was an optimistic person. We are an educated society, we have progressed as human kind and we have established equality, there is no way I will have to choose between family and career, I thought. But I was wrong.

Many women in this day and age dream of being successful. Female participation has improved in higher education, but is there a boundary to how “high” women can go? Does that boundary stem from the patriarchal social order we live in that forces women to choose between a career and a family? I argue that this is in fact true.

The Problem

According to Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOB) in London, the prime time for women to have children is when they are 20-30 years old.[1] An average person gets their career emerging by the age of 30. At this point some might argue “It is biology, we can’t do anything about it, that is just nature” I disagree. Companies and governments do very little to encourage women empowerment.

Drawing from cases and according to the 2015 Report from UN Women, many firms fail to complete simple criteria like “leadership promoting women empowerment”, “equality of opportunity” and “health and safety from violence”. Many of these firms include multinational corporations based in Europe.[2] Some examples include Air France, Barclays, Body Shop, CISCO, Coca-Cola and regrettably there are many more. So how can we blame biology when some of the biggest conglomerates in the world lack basic policies relating to women advancement?

Likewise, we cannot only blame the private sector for these errors but we have to distinguish the great accountability states have to implement laws that would support women to balance maternity and career. USA has in many cases taken the responsibility to “spread liberalism and democracy” yet there is no parental leave available for its citizens. Only 12 weeks of unpaid leave is given which is not something anyone can afford. The Bureau of Labour Statistics mentions that only 11% have access to paid family leave from the private sector and 16% from the public sector. Tara Bernard compares USA to lower income countries like Liberia and Guinea and concludes that they are at the same level concerning their “generosity towards maternal leave”.[3]


The Solution

It is important to understand and evaluate our mistakes but what is more important is to find a way forward and create solutions instead of pinpointing fingers. One solution that I argue can help eradicate this career vs motherhood dilemma is the right to paternal leave.

Perhaps some may think, “if we can’t get enough maternal leave then how can men get paternal leave?”. Yet this idea of paternal leave can be a leap towards both women empowerment but also for gender equality. Allowing both parents to get leave will mean that they can share the errands and household tasks. Most importantly both parents will have the opportunity to spend more time with the family. Regrettably, there is very little advancement in that segment as well. It seems like only Europe has made some progress and although in countries like Greece, paternal leave is only 2 days there are some countries that allow both parents to share a leave for a year or so like France, Spain and Germany[4]. While this is an improvement we cannot overlook how far we have yet to go.

In addition, we can’t not avoid to look at the one most important thing that needs change, that is the structure of the existing patriarchal society.

We live in a world where women are being enforced to select between maternity and career. One of the main reasons why, is the timing between career maturity and prime age for motherhood. Why is that considered so impossible to change?  Elin Cherry gives some great ideas that we can start with. Living in a world of such great technological advancement women should have the change to work from home and companies should give women the opportunity to work flexible hours. Flexible hours seem to be a concept that companies see as a loophole for underpayment but with the proper law enforcement it can be a tool to promote work life balance for both genders. She also mentions that it is about time to focus on quality of work rather than hours spent working and possibly promote rewards systems that can help enforce equality of opportunity[5].

There are so many solutions to the problem of eradicating the dilemma of women between motherhood and career. What is vital is looking at our past mistakes, evaluating, assessing and from there on looking forward to the future. We must learn from our mistakes, change our structures and force governments to enforce more favourable laws for women.


Bernard, Tara. ‘U.S. Trails Much of the World in Providing Paid Family Leave’. N.p., 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

2 UN Women, Companies Leading the Way: Putting The Principles into Practice. United Nations, 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

3 Bernard, Tara. ‘U.S. Trails Much of the World in Providing Paid Family Leave’. N.p., 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

4 Henley, Jon. ‘How Parental Leave Rights Differ Around the World’. the Guardian. N.p., 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

5 Cherry, Elin. ‘5 Workplace Changes We Need Right Now’. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.









About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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