Equality not just a problem for women

 As the related issues of gender bias and part-time work continues to grab the headlines, Helen Brennan talks about her own experience, arguing this is a problem for fathers and carers as well.

If the publication in January of PwC’s report on fairness and equality in the BBC’s policies for determining the pay of on-air talent was intended to damp down discussion of gender pay, it didn’t succeed. The topic of gender bias in the workplace continues to burn as hotly as ever.

Research published by the Institute of Fiscal Studies indicates that the lack of earnings growth in part-time work has a particularly significant effect on women – that is to say, if you work part-time, you don’t get pay rises.

It’s hard for me not to take this personally because last September, I reduced my paid working hours from 35 to 21. There were two reasons for this: with a son starting secondary school, I wanted to be around more in the evenings; and even though my firm allows me to use some of my working time for volunteering, with my volunteer roles putting increasing demands on my time, I wanted to be able to build a bit more “air” into my days.

I was surprised at how difficult this change was for me, emotionally and psychologically. I hadn’t realised how important my role as a professional and – to put it bluntly, my economic value - was to my sense of self.

The reaction of many male colleagues to my announcement was to refer to their wives having made a similar choice; this only increased my sense of having moved into an “out-group” of invisible Mrs Columbos at home.

However, this isn’t exclusively a problem for women. Fathers increasingly want greater flexibility in the workplace in order to spend time with their families. And it’s not just about parenting either – 42% of the UK’s working age carers are men.

It will be very interesting, therefore, to see what comes out of the research commissioned by Business in the Community, in partnership with Santander UK. This research will explore the experiences and needs of men with caring responsibilities in the UK, the relationship between men’s involvement in family and women’s progression, and involvement in the labour market. Focus groups with employers in the public and private sectors will investigate what interventions in the workplace are having positive effects.

Helen Brennan is Deputy President of the LSCA

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