International Women's Day 2016 : Gender on the Agenda

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Gender parity is the theme for international women’s day. It is estimated that it will take 117 years at this rate of change. Why?

Pregnancy plays a big part. It is still mainly women who take time out to care and too many employers find this hard to manage.

40 years after the Sex Discrimination Act, research shows that about 54,000 women lose their job each year because of maternity issues; that is 1 in 9. If one in nine men lost their jobs on becoming a Dad, there would be an uproar.

Yes, child bearing is for women (for a very short time) but child rearing is for women and men. Sharing the caring is good for women, for men, for children and for society. It is key to removing the widespread prejudice against women of childbearing age

At YESS we advise so many women who after years of hard work and long hours for their employer suddenly find their responsibilities taken away, the promise of promotion evaporating and to be told on day 1 of returning that they are likely to be made redundant.

Those who risk asking for flexible working hours are often refused and if offered it is rarely with the same responsibilities. There is too often a ‘cannot do’ approach instead of a ‘can do’ one.

There is strong legal protection against unfavourable treatment because of pregnancy and maternity leave. In theory tribunal claims can be brought against employers who discriminate. The reality is very different: most women do not have the time, energy, money or inclination to sue their employer. If these legal rights are without real remedies how do we reach gender parity?

I am not saying it is easy for employers to manage maternity, particularly small ones. There are costs in time and money. One solution would be to increase the amount the employer can recoup for statutory maternity pay. It is now 103% of pay. It should be more.

If paternity pay was increased to the same as maternity pay, more men might take shared parental leave – at least for the first 6 weeks when it would then be 90% of earnings.

Should employers be banned from dismissing a woman who is pregnant or on maternity leave unless there are exceptional circumstances. This happens in some countries.

We also need more information and advice for employers and employees, best practice examples, more mentors for employees starting a family, public monitoring of maternity related dismissals and naming and shaming of employers with poor practices.

We should follow the Scottish example and set up a working group to create guidelines for employers to ensure best practice on recruitment, retention and development of pregnant workers. It would be a positive first step.

Life's too short to litigate