Friday, June 27, 2008

Giving birth to more red tape

The proposed Equality Bill to be promoted by Harriet Harman is a damp squib for identity politicians. The proposals headlined in the press are about making public sector bodies and around 30% of private sector companies report on the gender gap, rather than doing anything about it. The remaining 70% of companies are not compelled to do anything.
"Part-time women receive 40% less pay than full-time men. Do you think that
that's because they are 40% less intelligent, less committed, less hard-working,
less qualified? It's not the case,"
Harriet told BBC Radio 4.

Part-time work and the gender gap is more complex than it looks. Harriet is right that part-time workers, for example, are just as qualified and intelligent as part-time ones. But some jobs just can’t be done effectively part-time. For example, managing full-time staff who may become clueless/panicky or demotivated by an absent boss. This isn’t about discrimination – the same applies to male part-time bosses.

Misogynist dinosaurs are just that - almost or about to go extinct. The real threat to women is not intentional discrimination, but structures that make entirely non-sexist people treat women and men differently in the workplace. One of these is maternity leave. Small companies can be put out of business by a hard-to-replace female member of staff becoming pregnant and disappearing on leave for months at a time. Needless to say, some employers will preferentially employ men or women who aren’t of reproductive age.

The way around this is simple. Slash female maternity leave to a maximum of 12 weeks ordinary maternity leave and offer men 12 weeks paid paternity leave, all to be taken after the birth. Cancel additional maternity leave entirely. I’m suggesting 12 weeks maternity/paternity leave because most nurseries won’t take babies younger than three months old. In addition, up to four weeks paid leave could be taken by either partner before the birth, either to make last minute preparations for the birth, or for health reasons.

This leaves businesses with a choice between not employing people of reproductive age or employing men and women in equal numbers. In addition, there would be no automatic assumption that a woman should be primarily responsible for child rearing. Parents would find it easier to deal with the new arrival if the woman was not solely responsible for the baby after the first fortnight.

[NB: Does this seem sensible? Can anyone who has children tell me if it’s realistic physically/emotionally to return to work three months after a birth? So far as I understand it, pregnancy is as physically harrowing as a major operation]


  • At 1:40 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I have had a baby and returning to work after 3 months is a crazy idea - it's even tough to return to work full-time after six months - sleepless nights, the sheer amount of feeding, bathing, laundry one has to do of an evening. Not to mention the fact that whilst back at work and looking after home and family the woman is also recovering from the birth itself, subsequent hormonal changes and probably months of nursing (small babies nurse every 1-2 hours day and night up until 3 months) - that is bone-shatteringly tiring and takes a LONG time to recover from. Most Mums suffer from exhaustion during the first year of the baby's life.

    My husband and I recently discussed that rather, we would like to see legislation changed such that I could take six months off after the birth and then my husband could take off the six months after me, after I returned to work, but - and this is crucial (because he wouldn't currently) - he ought to be able to have a secure, confirmed unchanged role to return to.

    That would be the fairest and best option.

    I'm afraid you are right, I read your post and get the strong impression you haven't had or been a parent of a young baby as it is physically shattering in a way that is only comparable to being a victim of torture through sleep deprivation!

    Hope that helped :-)


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