19 June 2014

Parental Leave - Time to Learn to Share?

Lisa Lewinsohn
Senior Associate | UK

I have recently returned from maternity leave and it feels like I have never been away. Sadly, not all women enjoy the same return experience. I have spent many working hours fighting the corner for a surprisingly (and disappointingly) large number of maternity returners who have been sidelined, bullied and ousted. Surprising given we supposedly live in a world of equality. Disappointing because we clearly don't. The City in general and financial services industry in particular has been a frequent battlefield for my work on behalf of the highly talented, highly successful women who find that having a family is considered to be an opportunity to be demoted and generally discriminated against by organisations who so often fail to live up to their own mission statements. Although assisting these women to reach a position where neither their reputations nor their bank balances are adversely affected by their experience is rewarding, surely prevention would be better than cure. Draft regulations have recently been published by the government which would allow parents of children expected to be born or placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2014 to share most of what would previously have been considered 'maternity leave'. The question then is posed – will the introduction of shared parental leave help to cure the issue of discrimination against women in connection with maternity leave? I fear there are two potential bars to laudable aims of the legislation being realised – at least within the foreseeable future. The first is simply societal norms – it can takes generations to change expectations and prejudices – see, for example, the fact that the Equal Pay Act is dated 1970 and we still have a gender pay gap almost 45 years later. The second is that the draft regulations and requirements they introduce are frustratingly complicated. Reading the sections on eligibility conditions, requests and notification requirements is not for the faint hearted! Whilst I doubt that we will ever reach a situation where parents take equal time out after the birth or adoption of a child, we may be able to reach a situation where there is slightly less discrimination against female employees – particularly less reluctance to hire those perceived to be 'of child bearing age'. So, a message to anyone in government who reads this blog – please simplify the draft regulations and make this more likely to happen… Watch this space to find out whether my plea has been heard…

Lisa Lewinsohn Senior Associate | London

Category: Blog