Clegg: Shoving new mums aside is unfair and bad for the economy

From Monday’s Scotsman:

MOTHERS often feel “shoved aside” in the workplace because they have had children, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has warned.

He said the problem was “far too common” and was not only unfair but also bad for the economy.

The Liberal Democrat leader said there was a need to dramatically change working practices to adapt to the realities of modern family life.

Mr Clegg’s comments came as a survey showed three quarters of women who returned to work after having a child thought it made it harder to progress in their career.

He went on to say:

It is sadly still far too common for women to feel shoved aside at work because they’ve decided to have children.

Aside from the obvious unfairness, it’s also bad for our economy, which means everybody ends up losing out.

There are many employers out there who do understand the need to retain the best staff and who want to help families better balance work and home. The companies being recognised today set a shining example.

Modern families come in every thinkable shape and size. In many cases mothers want to work and fathers want to spend more time at home.

We need to dramatically update our working practices to accommodate these realities, helping families juggle their lives as they see fit.

That is why from April 2015, the coalition government is introducing shared parental leave to ensure career options remain open to women after pregnancy.

Nick’s remarks were obviously to highlight the Liberal Democrat shared parental leave scheme which will be implemented from 2015. This should tackle some of the discrimination that women face in the workplace after having children. Helena Morrissey, who wrote the report on the Party’s processes and procedures earlier this year, said in a Women’s Hour interview back in April that she ended up leaving her job after her employer doubted her commitment simply because she’d had a baby.

While shared parental leave is important, it will take a while to have an impact. I thought it might be an idea to have a debate about what other barriers women, or indeed parents, face in the workplace and what can be done to resolve them. Employers and professional bodies can be remarkably inflexible and unpragmatic about their working practices. One friend of mine once went through all sorts of agonies with her professional body who insisted that a particular qualification could only be achieved by full-time working, which was an option that didn’t work for her. She had to fight to get to do it on reduced hours over a longer period.

Of course, shared parental leave is not the only thing that the Government has brought in which will affect parents’ career prospects. Extending the right to flexible working to everyone will also help make the playing field more level.

What else could or should be done to take down the barriers women with children face in the workplace? What about tackling the culture of presenteeism, the idea that to be effective you have to be in the office from dawn until way beyond dusk? That would surely help everyone’s wellbeing. Tell us your ideas in the comments.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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22 Comments

  • Shared parental leave is a great idea but its flaw is that it is explicitly stated that if a firm offers enhanced maternity benefits it is NOT discriminatory to only offer them to mothers.
    As enhanced mat benefits are, as a general rule, only offered in the higher paying careers this means that women will still be far more likely than men to take a parental leave, with all the career disadvantages that entails . It also means firms are incentivised to hire and promote men over women, no matter what other legislation may say.
    Of course making it discriminatory to only offer enhanced benefits to mothers could cause firms to remove enhanced benefits altogether, but that would be very bad PR for any firm that decided to do so.

  • Richard Dean 27th Nov '13 - 4:06pm

    This seems to be based on a rather challengeable assumption that young children don’t need parental attention more or less continuously for far more than the first few months or year of their lives. Might emotional deprivation and sanctioned neglect be unintended consequences of this apparently well-motivated change?

  • @ RIchard Dean – If you can reduce the cost of living to a point where both parents don’t need to work, then maybe you can start accusing working parents of neglecting their children. Both my wife and I would love nothing more than to be able to be at home with the kids rather than at work and having people like you tell us that we are bad parents isn’t helpful.
    Frankly comments like that make my blood boil, the whole single breadwinner nuclear family thing is a) a relatively recent, middle class concept and b) already outdated and unworkable for most families.

  • I thought it might be an idea to have a debate about what other barriers women, or indeed parents, face in the workplace and what can be done to resolve them

    Why?

    If people choose to have children, that is up to them, but I don’t see why they should then have special treatment to mitigate the consequences of that choice; especially when such special treatment is likely to result in their colleagues who do not have children having to pick up the slack while they are off watching little Johnny on stage with a tea-towel round his head trying to remember how to simultaneously remember his lines and not wet himself.

    If parents face difficulties in the workplace, then (unlike, say, the difficulties faced by people with disabilities) they are difficulties they have brought on themselves by their own decision to have children, and therefore the rest of us have no responsibility to help them out of those difficulties.

  • @Jim – I actually have a lot of sympathy for your position. There are two counter arguments to be made here though:
    Firstly help offered to parents can be about making women just as attractive to employers as men. Currently if you give an employer the choice between two childless people in their late 20s/early 30s and one of them is a man and the other a woman, all other things being equal the man is going to get the job. This means either providing support for women to close the gap or making men equally prone to taking time off for the kids.
    Secondly, as badly acted as school plays invariably are, children are a social good, if everyone stopped having them we would quickly run into some pretty difficult problems as a society. As such it’s not that unreasonable for society to help out with the stressful and expensive business of rearing the next generation of tax payers and people to run the public services you’ll be using when you’ve left the work force.

  • Richard Dean 27th Nov '13 - 5:45pm

    @Carl N. My question was just a question, and a valid one. I was not criticising you.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 28th Nov '13 - 8:40am

    Given that other people’s children will pay your pension and look after you in your old age, I find your remarks incredibly short sighted, Jim.

  • Peter Tyzack 28th Nov '13 - 9:50am

    Jim, it depends on whether you see yourself as part of the community or whether you only ever consider your own interests. The object of this, and many other changes on our agenda, is to try to undo the damage of the Thatcher years and the selfish society, to restore a caring community that recognises the true value of each person within it.

  • My remarks are based on fairness and treating people equally, things Liberal Democrats are supposed to be in favour of: treating parents and non-parents equally rather than giving parents benefits that they only get because they are parents, and being fair to people by not shielding them from the consequences of their choices.

    There is no relationship between this and other people’s children being able to look after me in my old age: that has far more to do with the quality of schooling the children are given than whether their dad and mum can bunk off work at a moment’s notice to attend a parent-teacher meeting leaving the rest of the office in the lurch, or demand flexible working hours thhat mean everyone else has to fit around their child-based schedule.

  • Richard Dean 28th Nov '13 - 11:30am

    Parenting is a very normal, human activity. Whatever measures we choose to make to support people in that difficult activity, those measures simply don’t have the effect of “leaving the rest of the office in the lurch”.

    I don’t see that being a parent puts any pressure on others to be one too.

    If an office or other workplace is understaffed, then management need to recruit more staff, and staff need to pressurize management to do this, not pressurize parents.

  • Some people choose to have children, this affects their career (of course taking several months of, and then being less able to work to company hours due to childcare is going to affect your carreer).

    Does anyone have a problem with this?

    The fact that the careers end up being women is another point all together, are woman being unfairly pushed into this situation, are the women choosing to be the primary carer, or is it patriarchy.

    Personally I don’t know many women that would be happy with the man being the primary carer, equality seems to be trying to turn women into men, rather than accepting their differences (I.e they want to raise the kids).

    40 odd years of legislation and nothing has changed.

    When will it be accepted that lot’s of women put their families over their career, and that this is not sexism, or discrimination against mums.

  • @fake – The problem is though, that because it is generally women who are the primary carers, women who have no children, or desire to have children, are still disadvantaged in the work place because men are seen as less likely to have time off for dependents, This is where the sexism and discrimination comes in.
    The only way to make it non-discriminatory is to level the playing field by eithe removing women’s maternity rights (which would be bad, IMHO) or by giving men equal rights.

  • Sigh.

    “The only way to make it non-discriminatory is to level the playing field by eithe removing women’s maternity rights (which would be bad, IMHO) or by giving men equal rights.”

    Men already have access to paternity leave rules, they can take 6 months of each. Woman are largly CHOOSING to be the main carer.

    What are you going to do, *force* men to take equal paternity leave, even though most women WANT to be the main career?

    Since when is accepting that many women want to be mothers sexist.

  • @fake – Sigh right back at you.
    Read my first post on the topic. For top flight jobs the male and female maternity/paternity benefits aren’t equal, the legislation goes as far as stating that it is not discriminatory to only offere enhanced benefits to mothers, which is, well, discriminatory, and perpetuates the gender imbalance in high paid professional service careers (law, banking, accountancy etc). The issue with employment rights is that, consiously or not, employers prefer men as they aren’t going to absent for extended periods. And as they can’t ask in an interview whether a woman wants to have children, all women get the same disadvantage. Making it impossible to offer enhance benefits to only one gender would reduce this considerably.

    And I agree there is nothing sexist about women wanting to be mothers,but neither is it unreasonable for men to want to be fathers.

  • Carl N

    I can only cite my own personal experiances, and that of my work.

    Women want to take materniity leave, men don’t, in general.

    If you want to make laws that men can have paternitiy leave by law, do so, just don’t be suprised if it makes no difference because people choose to carry on as normal.

  • Rankersbo: I’m fairly sure if I requested flexible working hours to indulge my hobby — say to try to make it in a rock band — my employer would tell me where I could get off. Why should you get flexible hours just because your reason involves your spawn?

    And no, the answer can’t be to allow everybody the right to flexible working. First of all, that would make many businesses inviable: staff need to know when each other will be there to plan meetings, to collaborate, and generally to get things built. That means at least fairly wide core hours, and taking an entire day a week off is not going to work.

    And secondly, the more flexibility the more negotiation is required: perhaps business requirements mean that there must be a member of a particular discipline in the office at all times during office hours, to respond quickly to customer enquiries. If you have every employee with the right to take a day a week off, you have to make sure they aren’t both taking the same day. Do you really think that the one who is the parent won’t pull out the ‘I’m a parent, my need is more important, they can jam with their mates any time’ card?

    So though you may claim that ‘no one would be carrying me’ in fact they might, depending on the nature of your job, because they have to work around your absence either because there are things they can only do when you are both in the office together, or because they must make sure that when you are out of the office they are there in order to ensure continuity of function.

    The only way to be fair, and ensure that parents don’t get preferential treatment, is to hold everyone to the same standard working hours.

  • Richard Dean 28th Nov '13 - 7:35pm

    A child is not a hobby.

  • Oh, I know: hobbies are supposed to be fun and usually involve less vomit.

    But children are, these days at least, a choice. And if people choose to spend their lives bringing up children that is their business, but there is no reason why that is any different to choosing to spend your life pursing a hobby, is it?

    I thought Liberal Democrats were supposed to uphold the idea that every individual’s choice of how to spend their lives is just as valid as every other’s. So no one deserves special treatment just because they make the choice to have children rather than pursue a hobby, do they?

  • Richard Dean 28th Nov '13 - 8:41pm

    @Jim.

    You have misunderstood.

    The UK as a whole is signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights which enshrines rights that include the right to a family life. Generally, like many societies, we believe that children are rather special and have rights themselves, including the right to life and care, and that parents have duties of care towards children (as does everyone). As part of our support for those various rights, we believe that society should support parents – we perhaps hold en even stronger belief, that society has a duty to support parents and parenting.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_8_of_the_European_Convention_on_Human_Rights

    As a society, and I hope as a political party, we do not grant similar rights explicitly relating to hobbies.

  • Ah. I see.

    So all people are equal, but parents are more equal.

    Good to know.

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