How a broken childcare system and Victorian bosses create a crushing vice for women

‘Important: Changes to fees and terms’.  That was the heading of an email from my son’s nursery last week and I’m sure I wasn’t the only parent to feel panic at the thought of increased childcare costs.

It wasn’t long ago that nursery fees for under 3’s hit £60 per day at our nursery which is already very expensive so a further increase is not welcome news for many parents.

Anyone reading this that knows me is probably wondering what I’m complaining about given that I’m in a senior role and therefore in a position to afford it.  I’m also now in receipt of the Welsh Government’s Childcare Offer which means my son is entitled to 30 hours free childcare a week so this price increase won’t have a major impact on me but that is far from the point.

The reason I am writing this piece is to raise awareness of the high costs of childcare and how that affects women in particular. 

Earlier this year, Mumsnet carried out a survey of 20,000 people across the UK.  One third of participants said their childcare payments were bigger than their rent or mortgage and this rises to 47% of those with a black ethnic background, 42% of those receiving Universal Credit, 40% of the under-30s, 38% of single parents, and 38% of those who work full time.

At the same time, research shows that half of working mothers do not receive the flexibility they request at work.  This study of 13,000 women found that many were dissuaded from asking for flexible working because they feared a negative reaction from their employer. 

And yet, while I had been previously working reduced hours and was proposing an increase to full-time with a flexible compressed week, my employer still didn’t want to support it.  Thankfully, I had an indisputable case but many are not so fortunate which puts them in an impossible situation and forces many women into low-paid, part-time roles.  The patriarchal society that we live in has done a great job of creating this idea that part-time work is a choice when for many, it’s the only option in a family trying to balance work and care.

When we were considering a second child, the cost of childcare for two seemed completely impossible and that’s with two full-time working parents. 

#EqualPayDay last week was a stark reminder of gender inequality in the workplace.  The causes of this include stereotyping, occupational segregation and care.  Having access to affordable childcare, allowing mums to participate fully in the labour market, would help to tackle the gender pay gap so I am pleased that the Welsh Government is currently consulting on childcare for under 3’s.

Mums are role models for the next generation and the choices they make set an example. I’m very clear that the issues that underpin the gender pay gap are systemic and can be resolved if we are serious about gender equality.

Have you been affected by the high cost of childcare? Did you have a flexible working request refused? Share your experience in the comments below.

3minuteleadership.org

[Image: Pixabay]


5 ways to tackle the gender pay gap

If you didn’t know already, today is #EqualPayDay in Britain which means that effectively, women work the rest of the year for free given the stark difference in pay that women receive for their work.

According to figures published by the Fawcett Society, the pay gap for women working full-time is 13.7% which means women earn just £86.30 in every £100 received by men. The biggest gaps can be found in Construction (22.9%), Finance (22.3%) and Education (19.7%). And there is also a considerable difference in senior roles with women accounting for just 7% of CEOs in the top 100 companies.

Sadly, 1 in 3 people don’t realise that discriminatory pay is illegal and therefore provide no challenge to the status quo.

What causes the gender pay gap?

There are a number of factors that contribute to the pay gap between men and women with the main issue being a continuing perception of male and female roles. Research from the Welsh gender equality charity, Chwarae Teg (FairPlay), discovered that children develop their views of gender roles as early as 3 years old and these views ensure that the cycle of inequality continues despite legislation to level the playing field being introduced nearly 50 years ago. Basically, the continued view that women will look after the family ensures they earn less than men. Women might plan their whole career around this, choosing lower paid jobs such as hairdressing, childcare or admin because they think it will be more flexible when the time comes to start a family. Other women look to change later on when they know that babies are on the horizon.

What can we do to tackle the gender pay gap? Here are 5 things that would make a difference:

1) Pay transparency – large employers are now being asked to publish their pay figures so discrepancies can be identified and eliminated. The BBC for example have published their figures to reveal some shocking truths about gender pay within the corporation.

2) Family friendly policies – employers should ensure flexibility for those with caring responsibilities and support them to make a full contribution at home and at work. Many employers think they are family friendly but are just blissfully unaware of the issues for their staff. For example, many organisations have different packages for mothers and fathers when it comes to maternity or paternity rights. This can make it very difficult to take up opportunities through policies such as shared parental leave because employers often have an enhanced package for mothers but not fathers so many families feel this is not an option.

3) Challenge stereotypes – organisations should make sure they are not reinforcing stereotypes but making industries such as Construction attractive to women as well as men. Women who are in male dominated industries should do all they can to support other women in their industry and support others to join them.

4) Women’s networks – women need to support each other so either create a network of your own with people who will support and inspire you or join one that is already out there. Many industries and employers have women’s networks so look them up and get involved.

5) Ask for a pay rise – if you think you are worth more than you are being laid, let your employer know about it. Figures show that women are less likely than men to ask for a pay rise and are worse off as a result. Sure, the answer might be no but you could be pleasantly surprised!

Do you have experience of gender pay issues or examples of good practice for levelling the playing field? Let us know in the comments below.

3minuteleadership.org

How not to treat your pregnant employees if you want them to keep working for you

Given that at the moment I am expecting my first child, I currently have lots of pregnant friends and I am shocked by the number of things they say about issues faced in the workplace and how they are treated by their employer and colleagues because they are pregnant.  Despite equality laws protecting against this kind of thing, pregnancy discrimination is rife in our workplaces.

Stories I have heard include someone finding out from another colleague details of who has been chosen to cover their role while they are on leave; women being treated like they have left already; and assumptions being made about when and on what basis they will be returning.

People in the workplace seem to forget (or not realise) that it’s the 21st Century and women make a wide range of choices these days.  For a start, Shared Parental Leave means that Dads can stay at home too and increasingly, men are taking a break from the workplace to do just that.  I have of course been asked if I will be giving up work which is laughable in a society of dual income households not to mention the fact that lots of women want a career and don’t believe that having a baby means they have to give this up.

Then you get people assuming you will be returning part-time after the baby is born. Which also isn’t for me (and many others) because I’m likely to do the same work anyway and I want my full pension thank you very much!  Naturally, my husband has not been subjected to any of these questions about his own decisions although I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been asked about mine.

It isn’t necessary these days and things really have to change, so what should you be doing if you want to be a good employer for those in the family way?

1) Don’t make assumptions and encourage others not to as well – these days, it is more than possible to raise a family and continue working so no matter how well-meaning you are, do not assume women will take 12 months off, return part-time or seek a less demanding role.  Better to assume that they will want to return to the same role at the same capacity and if they want to talk to you about reduced hours or other flexible working arrangements, they will let you know.

2) Ensure those who are preparing to go on any kind of child-related leave are involved in decisions about their role – they might be going on maternity leave but may well return and preferably to the job they left so they will appreciate it if you ask them their views on how to cover the role in their absence.  Discuss their plans for maternity leave and see what level of contact they would like to have while they are away.  Keep in touch days exist for a reason and some women will want to make sure they are used to the best effect.  When decisions have been made, make sure you talk to them and explain what is going to happen and why you have decided to do things that way.

3) Keep in touch – whether they use their keep in touch days or not, make sure they are kept up to speed with any important changes.  Is there something big kicking off that might make them worry for their role?  Update them on developments so that they can feel confident that they are a valued member of the team.

4) Carry out the risk assessment – it’s mandatory for a reason and women will want to make sure that their employer recognises the risks associated to the role and cares about making sure there are no unfair expectations placed on them that might cause harm to their baby.

5) Treat them with respect – while they’re there, while they’re off and when they come back.  Commit to good communication, timely responses or decisions and ensure all discussions are handled with sensitivity.  It will be appreciated and they will be more likely to come back.

I’m sure you made the hire in the first place thinking that person was amazing for the role.  Hopefully, they have proven you right and performed well during their time with you.  If that’s the case, you would want them back, right? Under whatever circumstances they want to return.

So treat them right and you have a good chance that they will want to re-join your fold after they have settled in to their new world order and continue doing the same amazing job they were doing before, probably with even more commitment because they know they are lucky to have a good employer and want to work hard for you.

Does this resonate with you?  Have you experiences of being pregnant in the workplace? Or are you an employer that agrees or is frustrated with these ideas?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

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