The gender-pay gap is never far from the news cycle these days and the so-called Motherhood Penalty is just one facet of a wider societal problem that is slowly coming into light after a study finalised by the University of Bristol in November of last year revealed the Motherhood Penalty in all of its ugliness.
The study found that, after an analysis of over three thousand couples, fewer than 30% of women return to full-time or self-employed work after giving birth — even three years later. Men were almost unaffected, with nine out of 10 carrying on in with their occupations as normal.
Shared Parental Leave & the Law
It might be a temptation to blame these figures on personal decisions, but in truth the problem stems from major flaws in legislation passed by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition way back in 2015.
Back then the government introduced both Shared Parental Leave and Statutory Parental Pay into the legal system. The proposals had the best intentions — that is, to help new mothers share the maternity period with the child’s father. But curiously both the SPL and the SPP did not include self-employed women and freelancers. Immediately, this left an estimated 1.6 million women out in the wilderness.
Another big flaw is that, where women receive what’s called enhanced pay when they go on maternity leave, there is nothing in the legislation that says men need to. The result is that whenever a new father intends on taking parental leave to look after his child, he is paid either 90% of his current weekly earnings or statutory paternity pay of £148.68 (the decision is made on whichever is the lowest amount).
Unsurprisingly, with no legal obligations, most companies do not bother to provide enhanced pay to their male colleagues. This reluctance to enhance male pay may also be exacerbated by the reality that the majority (8 out of 10) businesses pay their male colleagues more than their female colleagues. So, a form of paternity leave enhancement pay might cost them more money.
The Motherhood Penalty in Action
One activist, the self-employed sound-engineer Olga Fitzroy, was so incensed by the Motherhood Penalty that she set up the Parental Pay Equality (or PPE) Campaign to fight against it. She has achieved some success so far, with the government promising to review the current policies in 2020.
But along the way her Campaign has continued to uncover disturbing ripples from the Motherhood Penalty. One study that the PPE commissioned found that most self-employed or freelance women (80%) never quite recover from taking maternity leave. That is, most of them take a pay cut and never quite make it back to the earning power they enjoyed beforehand. This may be in part due to the additional stresses of self-employed life, which thrives on fostering stable relationships and networking with clients.
How to Abolish the Motherhood Penalty
Fitzroy’s Campaign is a good place to start, but the real challenge lies in overcoming preconceptions that are manifest in society. One of these manifestations is the belief that all career breaks — even if they are to have children — are bad for business. Some employers believe them to render job skills out of date. In the worst cases, hiring managers can be discouraged by a female job applicant just because she is of child-bearing age.
One way to abolish these discriminatory practices would be to make the duty of care for new-borns equal for all. Then hiring managers would no longer be able to easily discriminate, because men would also be in a position where they could take time off.
But men need to know that it is OK if they want to take parental leave, and that this will not hurt their career prospects. A part of this lies in reducing the stigmas that are in place. Obviously, not every expecting mother will want to share all of her maternity leave with a new father — that is also OK as long as it isn’t a forced decision. But we should all channel our inner-Fitzroy and fight, as she has done, for parenting legislation equality, and to end the stigmas that are still impeding change.
This article was written by Eliza Cochrane of Dpack, a direct packaging and packaging solutions business located in Stockport, UK.