Key asks for International Women’s day – in UK workplaces

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The gender pay gap, the part-time pay penalty, the Mummy track and the long hours’ culture have been with us for decades. They are all related. It is a vicious circle which discrimination law has done little to break. It goes like this

  • Employers often view men as the main earners. They may get a fatherhood bonus with a pay rise: women experience the motherhood penalty
  • Women take on disproportionately more caring partly because men work long hours, earn more and are seen as the main earner. Biology does not explain this. The mother requires time off around the birth but this is a short period compared to the life of the ‘child’ and working life of the parent
  • Women take longer maternity leave partly because men don’t share care and paternity pay is so low
  • 50 weeks shared parental leave (SPL) is available to men, few take it. Why? Partly because of the low pay and as men feel vulnerable at work if they do
  • Because men do not share care, the caring burden falls heavily on women – which impacts on their pay and their careers – hence the Mummy track
  • Employers assume that pregnant women and those of child bearing age will be focussing on babies not business – and motherhood prejudice continues..
  • The result: 54,000 women per annum lose their job because of pregnancy and maternity leave and the gender pay gap thrives.

We are back to the beginning. What is the solution? Some top asks:

  1. Properly paid ‘take it or lose it’ paternity leave for at least 6 weeks,
  2. More flexibility in taking SPL so that parents are able more easily to divide up the caring and working – which might suit employers too
  3. Increase the small employers rebate for statutory maternity pay. They can now recover 103%. It should be 115% if the returning employee is employed 12 months after return
  4. Preventing women losing their jobs because of pregnancy, eg by requiring the employer to file with ACAS before dismissing a woman during pregnancy until 6 months after her return. In Germany employers must get prior authorisation to dismiss a pregnant employee and there must be strong business reasons
  5. Pay transparency in the public and private sector
  6. Employers found guilty of discrimination should make enforceable undertakings (which are policed) to take action to prevent discrimination
  7. Key performance indicators should reward managers who ensure retention of employees who take maternity or SPL& who make flexible working work
  8. Incentives for employers who encourage the recruitment and retention of women and ensure pay parity
  9. Employers should be required to discuss with all prospective fathers how they could work flexibly within 2 years of the birth of their child
  10. Proper recognition and support for carers and the cared for – at all ages.

Camilla Palmer, cpalmer@yesslaw.org.uk

Alexandra Heron, Women & Work Research Group, Sydney University

Life's too short to litigate