The Monstrous Regiment of (Childbearing Age) Women

A few weeks ago, the NZLEAD Twitter chat was about the role and position of women in the workforce. Some of the debate I found quite odd, since it seemed to be focussing on issues that I personally thought were almost dead and buried in the UK – whether men had a problem with women in the workforce, or if women were “debarred” from working in certain occupations. Sadly, it seems I’ve been viewing the world of work through somewhat rose tinted glasses.

Earlier this week, a report was published which attracted a good deal of press attention, suggesting among other things that 40% of UK employers would have reservations about employing a woman of “childbearing age” and that a third of managers would hire a man in their 20s/30s rather than a woman of similar age, due to fears about maternity leave.

Originally, I was going to write a blog about the dubious use of statistics – the research was commissioned by a firm of lawyers who specialise in employment and discrimination claims and who are no doubt suffering a loss of business currently – and it’s interesting that the data itself is not easily available (the source of all the media stories seems to be this press release, which doesn’t provide any evidence to substantiate the claims). And even accepting the data at face value, it’s quite easy to turn the headline into “60% of employers always aim for the best talent, while an overwhelming majority operate non-discriminatory recruitment practices” should you wish to spin the story a different way.

However, it’s not the data but some of the reaction to the news stories that made me re-think my own views. Commenting on the story, Employment Minister Jo Swinson and TUC Leader Frances O’Grady both described businesses who have this attitude to younger women as “dinosaurs”. As a political soundbite that’s probably ok (if a rather lazy and clichéd image), though personally I’d sooner find out why such a high percentage apparently still hold these views rather than attack them for it (I suspect that much of it is based on a misunderstanding of  employment rules, something I blogged about here).

But the reaction to Swinson’s comments – most notably here – were of such a vile and personal nature that it made me realise that perhaps I have too positive a view. How very dare she express an opinion, especially as a young woman who (shock horror) had a baby and took maternity leave from her ministerial post. Doesn’t she know that British business is collapsing all around her because women are taking maternity time off?

Clearly the debate hasn’t progressed as much as I thought or hoped.

3 thoughts on “The Monstrous Regiment of (Childbearing Age) Women

  1. Wow- some of the comments! Women must sign a contract saying they will not get pregnant for 10 years if they get promoted or they are in breach of contract! Fathers are completely unaffected at work by having a newborn who wakes at night, of course. Sadly, I would agree, we have not come very far at all in lots of workplaces regarding pregnancy discrimination. I could give countless examples…

  2. Many managers operate with short-term goals. They genuinely can’t see how someone taking a period of extended leave can have anything but a negative impact on their business. However, maternity leave is planned a long time in advance – it’s probably the easiest thing to plan for if you need to get temporary cover or re-arrange working hours, but it is seen as ‘too difficult’. Much easier to hire a man who won’t need any time off…unless he has a serious accident/illness, or gets called to jury service, works for the TA, needs to care for an elderly relative or anything similar. When I returned to work after my first child I had to take a demotion as I wanted to work part-time. Apparently, you can’t manage client accounts and training projects 3 days a week. Clients expect you to be available 24/5. After my second child, I set up my own business, which involved managing client client accounts, project management and the design and delivery of training all in 3 days a week (initially). It appears that clients DON’T expect you to be available 24/5. I wonder if this fixed thinking all masks basic fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of losing control, of having to be better organised because one of your key players is not always available at the drop of a hat. Maternity leave DOES cause disruption to business – of course it does. But if you plan for it properly, that disruption should be minimal.

  3. The kind of thinking that went into the commentary on Swinson beggars belief. I can’t understand why anyone would think that merely having a baby affects a woman’s ambition or ability to do her job! Yet I know first hand this prejudice is still rife. As if raising the next generation wasn’t both important and hard enough we’re made to feel completely worthless.

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