Parents shouldn’t be made to choose. #CIPDbigconvo

Thank you to Dr Ernestine Ndzi, Lecturer and Tutor at Hertfordshire University, School of Law, Criminology and Political Science for today’s contribution to the Big Conversation.

While the mother, father, friends and family rejoice at the news that a child is on the way, the employer seem to be doing the opposite. While people celebrate the arrival of the birth of a new baby, the employer looks at the effect of the absence of the mum and/or dad in the workplace and the effect on its business. While the mum and dad of the child rejoice for the fact that a child is priceless, the employer is busy considering how much money they would loss in trying to arrange a maternity/paternity/shared parental leave cover.

Discrimination in the workplace because a woman is expecting a child or is on maternity leave has been a contentious issue in employment law for a long time. Women have been made an easy target for redundancy because of their child bearing responsibilities. Women have seen their work hours reduced and some have seen their job roles changed for the simple fact that they have/had taken maternity leave to have and nurture their newborn. Women have always been seen as an easy target for discrimination because of the long standing culture that men are breadwinners of the family while women have the childbearing and childcare responsibility role.

However, with the recent introduction of shared parental leave, it has become apparent that discrimination is not all about the women taking time off to have children but it also affects men who are willing to take time off to be part of their newborn’s life. The introduction of the regulation of shared parental leave was aimed at giving the mothers the opportunity to go back to work early if they so choose, and for the dads to have more time to spend with their newborn. It was the hope of the policy-makers that the legislation would help achieve some equality at home and in the workplace. Surveys conducted by organisations such as Working Families, My Family Care, CIPD, etc. have all highlighted the low uptake of shared parental leave amongst men. Talking to dads on the subject, the notion of dads being discriminated against seem to come across strongly. Dads are worried about the effect that taking time off would have on their career as well. A dad said this to me:

‘When I spoke to my employer about taking shared parental leave, he made two comments that got me worried. He asked me why I wanted to take shared parental leave and said such leave is meant for women and not men. He also said I may not be considered for the position that I applied for, if I would not be present for the first weeks of taking up the position…I then realised the impact taking shared parental leave would have on my career and my wife and I decided not to take shared parental leave.’ A 36 year old working dad

The employers have also started looking at fathers and fathers to be as potential threat to their businesses. They consider it an additional burden that they would also have to make business adjustments to cover for the absence of dads who would be taking more than the traditional two paternity leave to be with their newborn.

The effect of discriminating against dads in the workplace because of their ability to take longer leave, would deter men from taking advantage of the shared parental leave. The equality that the shared parental leave regulation aimed for might never be achieved.

Discrimination at work simply mean making working parents to choose between their careers and having children. Parents are therefore seen to be pushed to choose who should bear the burden of the discrimination at work. The person to bear the burden could be the mother if she decides to take her full maternity leave, or it could be the dad, if he decide to take more than the traditional two week paternity leave. It is really unfortunate that particularly for women, their child bearing age is the same as their career active age. This puts the pressure on women to either choose to be career women or parents which shouldn’t be. Parents have the rights to enjoy both worlds of having children and having a career and should not be made to choose by an employer.

I am delighted that CIPD Manchester is launching The Big Conversation to enable issues such as these to be discussed.

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