The theme for International Women’s Day 2020 is #EachforEqual – an equal world is an enabled world. The message is clear and simple: individually and collectively we can all actively challenge negative gender based stereotypes by fighting bias, broadening perceptions and being positive role models.
We all have family responsibilities, regardless of our gender. Today’s parents typically want to be equally involved in family and parental responsibilities. However, childcare, caring, domestic and family responsibilities are frequently unfairly stereotyped as 'women’s work'. This fuels discriminatory practices in and outside of the workplace.
Family friendly policies in the UK are far above average on an international scale. However statistics show that we can and must do better. It is clear that time out of the labour market to look after young children, coupled with the perception of women as carers sets back women’s earning power and can lead to discrimination against women on the grounds of sex, pregnancy and maternity. This perception can also put pressure on men to be the breadwinner and focus on work rather than family.
According to national campaign group ‘Pregnant then Screwed’,
- 54,000 women a year are pushed out of their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity leave;
- 77% of working mums have encountered negative or discriminatory treatment at work;
- 33% of employers say they would avoid hiring a woman of childbearing age;
- 44% of working mums say they earn less than before they had children.
Tools for change
The good news is that this can change. Although everyone has the right to request flexible working and many couples have the option of taking up Shared Parental Leave (SPL), we have not seen a significant uptake by men of either option. My previous blog, SPL – men it could be time to burn your boxers, explains why the system has been so widely criticised. It is complex, subject to strict eligibility requirements and uneconomical for most working families. And unsurprisingly it is estimated that only 1 – 2% of those eligible have taken it up. Persistent social stigma also continues to prevent some men from working flexibly and/or taking SPL.
A more straightforward and attractive system may well be introduced in the future, with additional pay and leave available for both parents, such as those systems in place in Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Further, Flexible working advocates such as Mother Pukka are campaigning for all jobs to be advertised as flexible from day 1.
Improvements to the framework may well be afoot, potentially making flexible working and time out of the labour market after the birth of a child a non-gendered society norm. In the meantime, we can all contribute to ensuring there is a shift in attitude, by challenging bias and by ensuring an equal sharing of family responsibilities and parental duties.
Case study: Joseph’s story
Here are some words from Joseph Austin, a senior associate in our private client department, who is a perfect example of this:
I feel fortunate on several levels to be a father in the workplace at this moment in time. Firstly, and most importantly, I have the gifts of a bouncy, feisty, sensitive and creative seven year old daughter and a chirpy, Lego, numbers and iPad obsessed four year old son. Secondly, I work for a supportive employer who has agreed to me working four days a week since September 2016. That arrangement, matched by my wife’s four day week, allowed us to only have to put the children in a nursery for three of the five working days. Financially, the nursery saving offset the loss of a fifth working day’s pay, but more crucially it provided us each with a day with the kids which we (mostly!) treasured.
Now that they are both at school, our flexible pattern remains, which we still find really useful. On my wife’s Monday, she can cover the pre and post school childcare and this provides a chance for her to take the children to an after school drama club which they both love. On Friday, I take them to after school swimming lessons. I have also helped on school projects such as the building of a pizza oven in the school’s limited outdoor space. The remainder of our non-working days are filled with house and family administration tasks, but there is usually also some time for personal leisure activities.
Being able to each have a little extra space in the seven day week allows us to better balance the pressures to be a good parent, productive and effective employee and a generally balanced and sane adult. I am definitely still on a learning curve, but I would be much further behind had my employer not provided me with the chance to balance the scales a bit."
Normalising parental leave and flexible working for everyone, irrespective of gender, will help quash negative stereotypes about women. It will also reduce stigma, better enabling men and women to participate equally in the home and the workplace. This will help more women remain in the workforce after having children, reduce discrimination, narrow the gender pay gap, stamp out unequal pay and encourage bonding between fathers and young children. There are clear benefits for children, women, men, the workplace, employers and society at large.
Everyone can be a positive role model for future generations and help dispel the myth that family responsibilities are 'women’s work'. Let’s all play our part #EachforEqual
About the author
Moira Campbell is a senior associate in Kingsley Napley's employment team, she is also the chair of our internal KN Families Network, which provides support and guidance to parents and carers within the firm.
The KN Families network has been running since 2017, and has over 30 members. Since its inception, the network has helped shape internal family friendly and parental leave policies and hosted events for working families. KN is also part of Cityparents, an inclusive network of over 15,000 individuals who have a shared interest in balancing home/family life with a progressive, professional career and has pledged its support for ‘Working Forwards’, the Equality and Human Rights Commission campaign for inclusive workplaces.
Joseph Austin TEP