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Childcare costs – the biggest barrier to the board room?

By Practice Group Leader, Employment

Two years on from the Lord Davies report which first brought to the fore the lack of women on listed company boards, are we any further forward? In that report Lord Davies set a voluntary target to increase women on boards from 12.5% to 25% by 2015 in FTSE 100 companies. The figure currently stands at 17.5% so some progress has been made but unfortunately much of this progress has been due to non-executive positions on boards (only 6% of executive directors are female). So what is the real reason for this slow progress?

Well, having attended more than 200 events with mothers and businesses, Lord Davies has concluded that the biggest barrier to reaching the top is childcare costs and that tax breaks are needed to “make work pay”. He went on to say: “Because childcare is so expensive, we have to have tax breaks. Everyone says we haven’t got any money, so we need to take it from somewhere else – such as aid to other countries for women’s issues. We need to say ‘hang on a minute, why don’t we put the money into this?’ This is about economic growth.”

To be clear, Lord Davies is not saying that women on boards cannot afford childcare, but that the pipeline is blocked because women are not returning to work in the first place and are therefore unlikely to make it to the boardroom.

Last month, plans to offer tax breaks worth about £2,000 per child to all parents were put on hold just three days after they were announced. Instead of becoming a universal benefit, it is now likely to be means tested[?], meaning that those families who miss out on child benefit may not be compensated. It remains to be seen what measures will eventually be introduced, but whilst the Cabinet is so sadly lacking in female members, perhaps this issue will be placed firmly on the back burner.

It is all very well for the government to be presenting family friendly measures such as extending the right to work flexibly but unless anything is done to improve childcare provision, it seems doubtful whether any real change will be made.

Time and time again we see cases of discrimination with women either about to go on maternity leave or returning to work from maternity leave being ignored, disregarded for promotion and not taken seriously. What is needed is a cultural change and this will not come about until it becomes normal practice for women to return to work after maternity leave with the full support of their employers. Affordable childcare is the logical, essential starting point on the road to achieving this.

If you have any concerns regarding your treatment upon return to work after maternity leave or other discrimination, please contact us.