Mum’s the Word – why we need a carevolution

Mum’s the Word – why we need a carevolution

Dr Lesley Sawers is Executive Chair of GenAnalytics Ltd, a specialist data analytics and market insights consultancy focused on business performance improvement linked to diversity and equalities in the workplace

In recent months we have seen a renewed focus on the issue of pregnancy and maternity in the workplace. Specifically, a recent review undertaken by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into pregnancy and maternity, revealed the high levels of discrimination that still exist in both the private and public sector. And those in public life are not isolated from this debate, both Prime Minister Theresa May and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, have both very publicly shared their own personal stories in an effort to open up and mainstream the discussion. They both recognise the need to breakdown the existence of “covering” in the workplace, where a woman deliberately avoids talking about being a mother so as not to appear less committed in comparison to colleagues. Both hope that by sharing their experiences this will encourage more women to similarly speak out and contribute to a change in attitudes and behaviours.

The TUC estimate that around 25% of women do not return to work after maternity leave, and one in six of mums who do go back change jobs because their employer will not allow them to work reduced or flexible hours. And when women do return to work, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that, on average, for a woman a pay gap of 10% exists even before the arrival of a first child. There is then a gradual increase in this gap, until the first child is twelve years old, when it is likely a women’s hourly wage will be a third below a man’s.

Whilst it is important to focus on areas of discrimination that still exist linked to pregnancy and maternity rights and to ensure that we collectively work to reduce inequity and inequality in the workplace and within roles, there is a wider issue operating in our society that we also need to address. And that is in terms of how we treat and view not just expectant mothers but others who undertake caring roles in our society.

The majority of paid and unpaid childcare is undertaken by women, and is viewed and valued as low status work. Historically, occupations that are undertaken mainly by women or have been “feminised” are characterised by low pay and are perceived as having low economic value in comparison to work undertaken predominately by men. Anne Marie Slaughter, Hilary Clintons former policy chief, in her book “Unfinished Business” argues that to drive change across society we need to stop viewing caring as a “women’s issue”. She talks about building an infrastructure of care, around the notion that “If family comes first, work does not come second. Life comes together”, where caregiving is seen as asset by businesses and organisations allowing people to be their most productive selves in the workplace.

To achieve this, we need to broaden our national conversation to also consider changing current attitudes and financial support for shared parental leave and the role that men can and should play in care provision. In Norway over 70% of fathers currently take more than 5 weeks’ paternity leave, whilst in the UK we still have a stigma that prevents many fathers or partners from playing a more active role in early parenting and which has led to a woeful uptake by men of shared parental leave.

We also need to consider the support and encouragement we give to “parentpreneurs”, allowing more parents to set up businesses, work from home, study or learn new skills whilst undertaking childcare. And we also need to address the growing “hidden” caring burden, increasingly being carried by many women in support of elderly relatives or parents, and ensure that we are not creating a new “covering” syndrome, linked to ageing.

Anne Marie Slaughter sets out a vision of the caring economy for the United States, but her vision and passion is universal. One of my favourite lines from her book is “We can finish the business that our mothers and grandmothers began, and begin a new revolution of our own”. I for one, have started making my plans to contribute to this Carevolution, this is something I am confident that we can achieve within Scottish businesses and our workplaces.

Authored by Lesley, “The Role and Contribution of Women to the Scottish Economy” can be found by clicking here

For more information visit the GenAnalytics website