Barriers and benefits of Shared Parental Leave

On Monday, I will head to the office for the first time in six months as my maternity leave ends and my husband takes over at home as primary carer for our baby boy.

According to figures, take up of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is as low as 2% and with enhanced packages mostly reserved for mothers, it’s easy to understand why. Some of the large private sector companies that really want to do their bit for gender equality, offer generous packages for Dads but for many, SPL is a luxury they just can’t afford to take up.

As someone who campaigned for parents to have the right to share their leave in whatever way they see fit, it’s only right that I would swap with my husband and let him take the strain at home while I go back to work. Financially, it makes sense for us too which is what SPL has always been about – families being able to manage their responsibilities with the main earner able to continue to work and baby being cared for by a parent regardless of which one it is.

Looking back, I remember how many people said I would change my mind both about sharing my leave and about going back full time but I haven’t and I’m ready to go back to a job I love and let father and son have their own time to bond.

As the big day approaches, I’m excited at the prospect of a full nights’ sleep and freedom to just ‘pop to the shop’. Plus, actually, I think it makes sense to have three months to recover from so many sleepless nights before we both have to adjust to a new life in which we battle to balance work and family life.

In terms of Dad’s thoughts, it’s his last day at work tomorrow and he is looking forward to having lots of quality time with his son and continuing to show him the world. He is both excited and apprehensive about having three months away from work for the same reasons as many of us mums. Some of the things he has mentioned include concerns about a reduction in wages and how we will manage, missed career opportunities and a fear of being left behind at work.

I do feel a little sad that this special time is nearly over but I’m happy that my husband will also have the opportunity to care for our child and take an active role. I’ve known all along that I can’t do it all on my own and I’m glad to have the opportunity to share the care right from the beginning.

So what stops more Dads from taking the opportunity? Many mums don’t want to cut their maternity leave short to allow Dad to take a turn and many that are happy to do that can’t afford to. It seems to me that employers should offer the same enhanced package for Shared Parental Leave as they do for Maternity Leave but until they do, the uptake will remain low.

Only yesterday, a campaign to provide access to baby changing facilities for Dads was in the news, highlighting the role of fathers in raising their children. It’s right that the world should change to recognise that children have two parents. Traditional attitudes to gender roles still linger but during my leave, I have come into contact with lots of fathers who are at home caring for their little ones and think this is something that will become more and more common in the future.

Have you taken Shared Parental Leave? How did you find it and what were the benefits for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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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.

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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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3 things employers can do now to address the gender pay gap in their workplace

Gender pay is back in the headlines this week as the deadline passes for reporting pay for male and female employees in companies with more than 250 staff.  From today, employers will need to be transparent about average pay for men and women in their organisations which includes any difference in bonuses or at different levels of the pay scale.

This move has been taken by the UK Government because despite over 40 years of Equal Pay legislation, the gender pay gap remains a stubborn problem that the Government is committed to address.  From now on, companies will need to know the situation across their business which will shine a light on gender inequality in the workplace and hopefully lead to plans to address the imbalance.

What creates this problem?  A wide range of factors contribute to the continued pay inequality for women not only in the UK but around the world.  Firstly, more women than men enter careers with low pay such as hairdressing and childcare whereas more men are found in higher paying sectors such as construction and engineering.

Women are more likely to take on the caring role within the family meaning that work and career take a back seat.  Choosing to reduce hours limits women’s career options with part-time roles at a senior level being extremely difficult to find.  Instead, those women who prioritise family-friendly working hours tend to find their options limited to jobs which are low skilled and low paid.

From a male perspective, whilst rights are increasing for fathers who want to share the responsibility of caring for the family, exercising these rights is often more of a challenge.  At all levels of society, assumptions are made about what changes a woman will make once a baby arrives with far less consideration given to how the father might plan to change his working patterns or adjust his career goals.

What needs to be done to tackle the gender pay gap?  It’s going to be a long journey with lots of work required to change society’s views on gender roles including working with children to create a foundation for success.  However, if you are an employer that wants to start addressing this today, here are three things that employers can do now to make a significant difference for gender pay inequality:

1)      Identify any structural issues in the organisation

Many times, I have heard employers say they would love to appoint women to their advertised roles if only they would apply.  My response to this is to ask them to consider why women might not put themselves forward for these roles.  One possibility might be that women think they can’t have flexibility in the role.  For example, across a number of organisations, I have heard women say that they value their flexibility and senior roles in their organisation state that post-holders are required to work the hours necessary to do the job.  This can be worrying for women with family responsibilities and they can be discouraged from applying if they think they will not have the flexibility they need to manage work and home.

2)      Part-time roles at a senior level

Another thing I have heard many times over the years is that management and senior roles can’t be done part time.  In my opinion this is untrue and so a positive step would be for employers to start advertising higher level roles with a clear statement that part-time hours or flexible working is available.  For roles that do need someone full-time, employers should start seriously exploring job share arrangements as an option.

3)      Supporting fathers to take an active role

As long as women are seen as the ones responsible for caring for the family and home, there will be discrimination in the workplace.  New policy and legislation means that the growing number of men who want to be involved in raising up the family, are able to do so. However, enhanced packages offered to women need to be available to men as well to make shared parental leave a viable option. And we need to encourage more men to exercise their right to request flexible working until it is no longer seen as something for women.

Finally, I’ve heard lots of employers saying they know that the gender pay gap is an issue but ‘not in my workplace’.  Any organisation that thinks this way needs to seriously reflect.  If it’s true then share what you’re doing with others so they can enjoy the same success.  If it isn’t true, try some of these actions and start making a change.


Do you agree with the suggestions in this article? Are these things having an impact already in your workplace? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Why it matters that we finally have a woman playing The Doctor

It’s been a long time coming but many women across Britain have finally realised a dream which I wasn’t sure would ever come true a female lead in the British cult series – Dr Who.

A few years ago, I remember talking to a producer of Dr Who and asked the question ‘when is the Doctor going to be a woman?’. She advised me that it would never happen because the fans didn’t want it and the ratings would fall if that decision was made.

We now get to find out if that is a valid concern or indeed if the change means the series can inspire a whole new audience.

Why does it matter whether we have a female Doctor?

It isn’t just a nice thing to do for women, it really matters that we have female role models who are visible and leading the way. Being able to see women in prominent roles and breaking new ground is an inspiration for girls everywhere. It tells our daughters that anything is possible and they can actually be whatever they want to be.

Role models help to raise aspirations and show girls they can succeed. Whether it’s leadership, media, engineering or something else, we need to see that women can achieve in whatever they choose and this character provides someone for our girls to look up to.

For those girls watching Jodie Whittaker taking on the Daleks, it tells them they can have leading roles, become action heroes and achieve what seems impossible if they want to. We see far too little of girls having adventures so many of us are cheering this turn of events and hope that it marks the beginning of an era where girls can get right in the thick of it too.

Typically, women are seen as not having power so hopefully having a woman play an extraterrestrial Time Lord who zips through time and space to solve problems and battle injustice across the universe will help to change this.

Do women have equal opportunities in the media?

It’s been a big week for women with names and salaries of the BBCs highest paid stars being published in a bid to improve transparency of the public service. Reading the news articles ahead of the release, I was disappointed to see this quote: ‘It’s good to see some women on the list too’. This is the type of attitude that creates inequality in the first place and allows it to continue. It’s shocking to discover that women account for just 1/3 of the list and men exclusively hold the top 12 highest paid roles.

What impact does a lack of female role models have on wider society?

An article published by Forbes explains the need for role models perfectly:

“Seeing few people who look and act like them in industries like science and politics discourages girls from pursuing their interests if those interests are not popular. This robs the world of future talent that has massive potential to feed innovation, create change, and boost the economy”

When young women and girls see Jodie Whittaker or other leading lights taking on new challenges and succeeding in the chosen field, they think ‘if they can do it, so can I’. So thank you to the BBC for taking diversity seriously and finally appointing a female Doctor to show our girls they have options.

What can you do to help ensure we have good role models for girls to look up to?

You can be visible – if you have any kind of role that challenges gender stereotypes, do what you can to make it known to others so you can inspire girls coming though.

You can be the change – when you secure a role in an area where women are under-represented, you can help to create a space where women are welcome and judged on their own merits.

You can help others – if you make it to a position of authority or even achieve something that others admire, you can share your story and experiences to help others do the same.

If you have any thoughts about what more needs to happen to promote female role models or have an experience to share with us, please post in the comments below.


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Photo credit: Pixabay

Thoughts from top women in Wales on increasing representation in leadership & decision-making

This week, I joined colleagues from across the Civil Service and Local Government in Wales to mark International Women’s Day at the Senedd (Welsh Parliament). An impressive line-up of leading ladies shared their own career journey and experiences to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Just a few days earlier, the Assembly Research Service published figures on gender equality. These figures show that slightly fewer women than men are economically active (72.4% compared with 83%) and a higher proportion work part-time (41.3% compared with 12.7%). Of those sectors prioritised for investment by the Welsh Government within their economic strategy, women account for just 32.7% of the workforce.

When we look at our public service leaders, we can see that despite accounting for 72% of Local Government staff,only 18% of Local Authority Chief Executives are female. Of our elected representatives, less than one-third of councillors are female and whilst women account for nearly half of our Assembly Members (41.7%), this has slipped from an admirable 52% during 2005 – 2007.

The Deputy Presiding Officer, Ann Jones AM, welcomed delegates and reminded us that the Welsh Assembly has a history of leading the way on gender equality. Despite this, she noted that everything that we have achieved as women has been achieved because we have been willing to stand together and fight for women’s causes.

The figures above show that there is still a great deal of work to do if we are to achieve gender equality in Wales.

A number of prominent women addressed the audience from the HR Director of DVLA to the Chief Executive of the National Assembly for Wales. Here are some of the things suggested throughout the event that would help to increase the number of women at the top:

1. Appoint a gender champion – change comes from the top and someone needs to take the lead to ensure gender is on the agenda in your organisation. Consider finding someone senior to take on the role of gender champion to push for fair representation of women.

2. Develop a positive intervention – sometimes the pace of change is too slow and we need positive interventions to accelerate progress. In particular, organisations in receipt of public money should be leading the way.

3. Create an inclusive environment – typically, women have a different style and the workplace should encourage everyone to contribute to the best of their ability and in their own way.

4. Pay attention to language – language shapes the world around you. If you are using ‘Chairman’, ‘guys’ (to mean everyone), or ‘he’ (to refer to a person male or female), then just stop. Right now.

5. Job advertisements and interview questions – evidently, boys associate more with verbs and girls with adjectives. Jargon and any language of power possibly put women off so consider getting a specialist to ‘gender lens’ your recruitment processes to make sure you aren’t unintentionally excluding women in this way.

6. Role models – you can’t be what you can’t see. Women need access to inspirational role models who are visible to encourage women to follow in their footsteps. And I don’t mean those women who conform to masculine norms and/or pull the ladder up behind them but those who have managed to succeed whilst staying true to their own identity and maintaining their integrity.

 7. Challenge – if we don’t challenge when we see actions or hear views that disadvantage women or reinforce stereotypes then change will be slow to happen. If you think something is wrong or unhelpful then say so. This will help to raise awareness and hopefully lead to better decisions.
Think I’ve missed something? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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How Donald is trumping Hillary in the ultimate leadership race

As I sit in the airport lounge waiting to head home from the US, there is yet more analysis of Clinton and Trump being broadcast ahead of the final presidential debate which takes place tonight. The election is a hot topic which has been evident everywhere we have visited on our trip and a regular topic of conversation as we’ve travelled around Massachusetts.
In terms of the analysis, I have been most interested in the discussion around non-verbal communication and what that means for the leadership contest. How these candidates present themselves is probably even more important than the policy positions they are trying to promote. Conversely, women are even more likely to be subject to analysis on these terms, judged not only on what they say but also what they wear and how they come across.

So what can we say about Clinton and Trump from their performance within these debates?

Watching the third and final debate, what struck me first was the way they try to convey power and authority. As I watched them both at their lecterns, it brought to mind a TED talk I saw a while back by Amy Cuddy which explains how the power pose can increase testosterone. What I’ve noticed since then is that men tend to naturally take a bigger position when they speak. They might put their hands on their hips or elbow on the chair next to them so they take up more space. On the other hand, women quite often remain quite small with their hands on their lap and their legs crossed.

Watching the debates, I noticed exactly this.  Trump is already much bigger that Clinton and he builds on this by holding on to either side of the lectern which communicates strength and power. Clinton has her arms in side the lectern and hands together. What I get from her stance is more of a feeling of grounding. She is already smaller and stands steady and confident as she tries to communicate that she is reliable and grounded.

Commentators in the US are saying that Clinton isn’t doing well when it comes to authenticity. Watching her in action, I can see why this is that case. She comes across as a stateswoman – immaculately groomed and well polished with an air of constant calm and serenity. This is next to Trump with his crazy hair and ridiculous facial expressions which makes her look like she is wearing a mask to hide what she truly feels.

She may look presidential but this doesn’t appeal to many voters who have had enough of politicians who they believe tell lies and waste public money. Trump on the other hand isn’t afraid to make outrageous statements and even though he may not always have his facts straight, he shares his views with such passion and conviction, he gets away with it because people are currently seeming to prefer candidates who have no care for political correctness rather than those who toe the line.

From the rise of UKIP in Britain, the shock EU referendum result and now the very real possibility that Trump could become the next President of the United States, it is very clear that people want something different. Fed up with the political establishment telling them what to do and making decisions they don’t agree with, voters are starting to take a stand.

What the outcome will be of this next election, no-one can be quite sure but we do know that the world will be watching on November 8th to see what happens next.

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You might also be interested in: Authenticity and believing what you say 

But women have babies don’t they?

Last week, the Labour party announced a mentoring scheme for women in the name of Jo Cox MP which aims to support over 600 women leaders who will be able to make a strong contribution to public life.

The announcement made me think about the wide range of programmes in place and to wonder why we have seen a raft of women’s development schemes and still have a significant under-representation of women in leadership roles, even in sectors where women dominate.

Now, I am in favour of this and similar programmes as I know from personal experience that they are extremely valuable in developing self-confidence which women often seem to lack and is vital for putting yourself forward for opportunities and making your voice heard.

For women to be able to discuss the challenges is absolutely necessary in tackling this issue as they realise they are not alone and are able to learn from the experiences of others. Prominent women have begun sharing their own lessons and this can be invaluable. For example, ever since I read Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’, I make sure I sit at the table, not at the periphery, and believe that my view is as valid as any other.

When you notice something that makes a difference, it’s important to pass on the message and encourage other women to do the same. For too long, women who have made it to the top have pulled the ladder up behind them and those of us climbing the ladder today have a duty to look back and help others to follow.

My belief is that whilst investment into development initiatives is to be welcomed, there are further commitments organisations can make if the really want to make an impact.

An article on women in British politics declares that ‘women aren’t the problem, the parties are’ and I have to agree that there is an entrenched gender bias which holds women back. It’s true in other organisations too.

Over the last seven years, I have been supporting organisations with gender equality initiatives, talking to a wide range of different groups about the barriers for women. You would be amazed by some of the comments I have heard along the way. A common assumption has been ‘but women have babies don’t they?’ and the most recent justification for women not getting involved in committees was ‘they don’t like driving at night’ (I was pretty stunned too).

It’s positive that I am starting to hear of individuals who commit to ensuring gender balance on recruitment panels or refusing to speak at events if there are no women on the programme. Women and indeed male supporters of our plight need to start refusing to participate unless there is gender balance in order to highlight the issue and show that it is important.

We also need to create an environment that women want to be part of. It was a few years ago that I was watching a debate in the House of Commons which was actually about the under-representation of women in parliament. The debate was playing in the office and a colleague said to me ‘what are you watching? The football?’ because she could hear jeering and cheering in the usual Westminster/football stadium style.

It isn’t enough to state an aspiration to support women and provide another leadership programme. We need to develop cultures which allow women to participate and succeed on their own terms.

We need to see a true commitment to breaking down the barriers for women and ensure change happens at a rate that will make a difference.


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