Long hours, job insecurity, childcare duties and home-schooling all took their toll on working mothers in the pandemic, with 61% seriously considering leaving the industry, a study shows.
Half of the 523 mothers and carers working in unscripted TV polled in March for the Locked Down and Locked Out report – 72% of them freelancers - said they had to turn down work due to childcare issues, while 55% of respondents suffered from cancelled work and 54% were unable to find enough work.
Some 28 had even considered suicide due to the pressures on their mental health and financial wellbeing.
The survey, compiled by the University of Nottingham with Share My Telly Job and Telly Mums Network, suggests that the pandemic accelerated existing gender inequalities, with 80% of respondents saying they bore the brunt of childcare and home schooling, with just one in ten saying their partner or other family member took charge.
Former head of Channel 4 News and Current Affairs Dorothy Byrne called on men to “pull their finger out”.
In her foreword to the report, Byrne observed: “Lots of those programmes and news items we saw reporting on how women were suffering disproportionately in the pandemic were made by men who were dumping on their own wives and partners back home.”
The report highlights the stark inequalities between staff and freelancers, with almost a third of respondents receiving no government support.
Working ‘flexible hours’ was the main concession offered to working mothers during the pandemic, with 84% saying this was an option handed to them by employers. The report suggests that this further contributed to their stress and exhaustion as it assumed that parents will effectively extend their working day by adding in more childcare responsibilities.
Only 13% were offered reduced hours and just 9% were able to do a job-share, an option that 68% of mothers surveyed said would help them balance their commitments.
Some 95% of mothers want to continue working from home, citing improved quality of family life with time previously used for commuting typically spent with children.
The report calls for employers to enshrine job-sharing, part-time work, home and flexible working in all positions and for all workers.
It also urges indies to incorporate maternity rights and flexible working into management training, to establish an inclusive workplace culture for parents and carers – and for childcare to be written into programme budgets, with broadcasters encouraged to give longer lead times.
Referring to her own privilege in being able to afford a live-in nanny when she went back to work when her child was just six weeks old, Byrne baldly stated: “If I had had a baby during this pandemic, I think I would just have had to give up work.”
She called on everyone to campaign for freelancers to get the same benefits as staff employees.
“Employers who espouse lovely ideas about caring for everyone who works on their programmes and films need to take more responsibility for ensuring that freelance women workers are treated fairly,” she wrote.
“You can’t make films about social justice if the people making them are suffering injustice. And the industry needs the knowledge and experience of these mothers. We can’t afford to waste it.”