Shared parental leave and flexible working – dare to dream

This very morning, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has made a speech to outline the measures the Goverment proposes in the long awaited Response to the Modern Workplaces Consultation*.

I like the speech. I like it very much. It says things that I and many others I am sure feel about the current system.  It acknowledges the current financial and operational burden on business of losing women from the workforce for up to a year at a time, a burden which has potential long term ramifications for those women and also women of childbearing age generally as I have previously commented.

The situation described in the following quote is one I am sure many professional women and their partners will recognise:

“…so many couples feel like their [sic] facing an impossible mathematical equation.

And it’s an equation where the answer is almost always rigged.

Because, whichever way you look at it, the solution ends up being the mother doing more of the caring, and the father doing more of the earning.
She gets the year long maternity leave;
After that, the expectation is she’ll continue to be the primary carer – so she’s the one who goes part-time.
That, very often, means she ends up on lower pay, with fewer chances for promotion…
And it’s at exactly this point that the pay gap begins to widen – and just last week two separate reports reminded us what a problem that still is…”

Many are already expressing doubt that this proposed legislation will ever see the light of day (although that’s what many thought about the Equality Act, who knew?) but I am quietly confident.  The Deputy Prime Minister’s references to the economic benefits of increased female participation in the labour market suggest to me that Government commitment is real. The fact that it will take 2 years or so to put legislation in place should not be a surprise, would we really want some rushed and ill thought out provisions shoehorned into existing draft legislation and whizzed through before businesses have a chance to prepare?  There’s quite enough of that going on already thank you.

The CBI has come out in response, saying that businesses realise that flexible parental leave can help retain talent. Tentative but positive I think.

I have previously commented on the need for more than legislation to give parents true equality in the workplace but this is also true in the area of childcare.  Men with primary childcare responsibility are often viewed with suspicion and sometimes dare I say even contempt by other parents (of both sexes).   If women are to be given equality of opportunity in the work sphere, then men must be given the respect that they deserve when caring for their children, not be viewed as some sort of second-class substitute for their child’s mother.  No amount of legislation will be able to influence this unfortunately, but Rome wasn’t built in a day I suppose.

I’m daring to dream that we will see the culture change across all areas of society. Whether the proposed legislation helps or hinders that depends on whether it is workable from the perspective of businesses. It needs to make sound economic and operational sense in order for businesses to engage with it rather than turn to advisers like me and ask “how can we get out of it?”.   Otherwise we are in danger of seeing a regime introduced and immediately circumvented by business decisions or continuing cultural constraints.

I’m off to read the Consultation Response in detail now. It’s quite likely that I will have more to say once I’ve done so.  Comments on my initial thoughts here are very welcome as always!

*although the Response to the Working Time element of the Consultation is still pending.

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