The plan announced today by Nick Clegg that parents will be able to share Parental Leave is a welcome step towards addressing gender inequality in the workplace.
Until this societal discrepancy is addressed, Maternity Leave will remain as a differentiator between the sexes in the workplace. The current UK government has said it is committed to becoming the “most family friendly in Europe.” There is work to do if this pledge is to become reality.
Only once men and women are equally able to participate in their children's upbringing from the very earliest stages, will we see a shift in attitudes, both from those who think a long time off for maternity leave is unfair, and from employers who discriminate against women on maternity leave; whether overtly or covertly. If men are just as likely to take time off on Parental Leave, the major differentiator disappears.
The measures revealed are welcome, but the key will be in ensuring that there is significant take-up by men, so that the opportunity for gender equal parenting can truly become the norm.
Though we applaud the decision to include the ability for parents to take time off together, we had hoped to see six weeks paid Paternity Leave for fathers, as a first step towards encouraging greater take-up of parental leave.
This is important not just for those who want to see a more equal society, but also for those who want to see economic growth in Britain. The business case for gender equality is clear and proven. Businesses with more gender-balanced leadership are more profitable.
For two decades now, girls and young women have outperformed boys and young men at school and entry-level. Something must urgently change to tackle the glass ceiling and prevent the drain of so much talent to our economy. No football manager would leave half their best players on the bench in an important match, so why should our workplaces be skewed against the career progression of half the population?
Other measures announced today include the right for men to take unpaid leave to attend two ante-natal appointments, and parallel rights for parents who adopt or are surrogate parents to, as well as a change in approach to Flexible Working.
The UK Government's plan now to extend the right to request Flexible Working to all on the other hand is long overdue. Although a sensible decision, it is important not to get over-excited about its significance. After all, this is merely a right to request flexible working, not be granted it. Most grown-up employers allow their staff to make requests anyway.
If you are experiencing Maternity or Paternity Discrimination issues at work, our expert Employment Solicitors can help you to solve your problems, either through careful and sensitive negotiation with your employer, or through more formal litigation.
Samantha Mangwana is an Employment Lawyer at Slater and Gordon in London.
For more information about Maternity or Paternity Employment claims call Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0800 916 9060 or contact us online and we will call you.
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