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Here is one easy change for all employers to make this National Work Life Week
Published: 4 Oct 2018
Back in June I introduced a Bill in Parliament requiring all large companies to publish their parental leave and pay policies. Over the summer, I convinced the Government to instruct all Civil Service departments to do just that. And last week I celebrated yet another success in my campaign as ten major UK business, together employing around 175,000 people, committed to do the same. During this year’s National Work Life Week, I’m asking other employers to follow their example.
Each year 54,000 women lose their jobs because of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace. It is actually getting worse. A decade ago, the figure was 30,000. This is a national scandal.
To address it, we need both employers and government to take action on multiple fronts. We need much stronger flexible working policies for both parents and carers, and we need much more powerful and effective ways to enforce employment rights. The government should also plug the gap in free early years provision between twelve months and two years.
But a dollop of transparency will help too. Take gender pay gap reporting, which I secured while I was Employment Relations Minister in the Coalition Government. Having to look at hard numbers has made employers realise that they really do have a problem. Over the years many business leaders have been great at talking the talk. Now that they have been confronted with an accurate picture of their organisations, they might just start walking the walk.
It is in that same spirit that I introduced my Bill earlier this year. The ten employers that have pledged their support for it have shown that it is a simple and easy change to make with benefits for both employers, employees and prospective job applicants.
For job applicants, it means no longer having to ask at interview about parental pay and leave policies. And when most employers think that women should have to disclose their pregnancy at interview, we must do whatever we can to reduce the risk of discrimination during the recruitment process.
Employees will feel empowered to ask senior management for better benefits if they can see what a competitor offers instead. It will also mean no more awkward conversations with HR or their line manage to find out where the policies are just because they’re starting to think about having a family. In fact, research published by Direct Line earlier this week showed that three quarters of working age adults in the UK think large employers should publish their policies.
If employers are serious about creating a culture where employees with caring responsibilities feel supported, then they need to be more open about how they do that in practice. Publishing parental leave and pay policies, alongside any other initiatives, will signal to both current and potential employees that their employer is committed to being a family-friendly employer.
Finally, my Bill isn’t just about helping mothers at work. Research by Working Families has highlighted appetite among fathers – particularly younger fathers – to combine work and care. There are concerns that fathers are considering downshifting, taking a pay cut or leaving work altogether. This could create a ‘fatherhood penalty’ – where men’s careers are deliberately stalled or put on hold as they try to combine work with family life.
Employers must ensure that men also feel supported in taking on their fair share of caring responsibilities – being more transparent about parental leave and pay policies will help. But we also need working dads, especially those in leadership roles, to be open and proud about how they balance professional and family responsibilities. And the government must give fathers a bigger chunk of leave allocated just for them on a use-it-or-lose-it basis and enhance statutory pay for parental leave.
I was delighted when earlier this week the Government announced it will be consulting on my Bill. And over the coming months I’ll keep up the pressure to ensure it becomes law. But, in the meantime, as it’s National Work Life Week, my question to all employers reading this is: will you publish your parental leave and pay policy and take one easy step toward building a fairer workplace?
National Work Life Week runs from 1-5 October 2018.