I felt the need to write this on the back of the latest disappointing stats about Statutory Paternity Leave (SPL). I’m aware this post is full of broad-brush generalisations and stereotypes and I believe these stereotypes exist because they’re true and still apply to the majority. What gives me hope is that we have younger generations coming through who have different mindsets and we need to ensure we enable those mindsets to remain intact and flourish rather than be subsumed into the system of their parents and grandparents. So here are my thoughts about why SPL isn’t working…
At a very basic level – men are still mostly the main earners – because they’re better at going for jobs they’re not quite ready for, because they’re better at negotiating pay rises, because they don’t take the majority of the time out for kids so their careers are less impacted & therefore they go further, faster with their careers and, in doing so, increase the income differential with their wife or partner even more for any subsequent children.
So even when we have great intentions through schemes like SPL, there’s a fundamental flaw to the plan which SPL, gender pay gap stuff, and other approaches aren’t solving. The flaw is that, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else, work’s too often about achieving KPIs & sales / profit results.
For as long as this is true, women with children will continue to represent a risk in the workplace. It might be controversial and look like I’m taking the world of equality back a hundred years but I think we need to face the root cause and stop trying to sticky plaster the symptoms. Because under the equality & diversity & inclusivity headlines (which by the way I believe in), if someone operates a business or team from a position of “control the controlables to minimise the risks and maximise the results” then they will prefer a man, or maybe a woman who doesn’t have / isn’t going to have kids – but there’s still those pesky periods, inconvenient menopause and those emotions. Gosh those women and their emotions!
The reality of course is that men have things going on too and that they also have plenty of emotions, but they’re often hidden because they’ve got to “be a man” : a contributing factor to the scarily high male suicide rates. But it’s so easy to ignore this information because it doesn’t confirm our beliefs about men being non-emotional, and we hate to be wrong.
So SPL is great, equality rights are great, but underneath it all, until we change the definition of success in our organisations – and therefore our society – the workplace will continue to disadvantage anyone who’s currently seen as “hard work” or who needs more than there’s the time or budget to give. (Of course this therefore includes people with any kind of disability, caring responsibilities or difference in general.)
Is this how we want work to be?
Is this how we want our society to be?
What would it be like if we treated each other like valuable human beings AND kept a balanced eye on results?
The future of work is human.
P.S. Some orgs are already doing this. It is possible!