A Woman's Place - Home or Workplace?

Blog by Maria Petnga Wallace,  Diversity Advisor - Opportunity Now and Race for Opportunity

A woman’s place ..................
Is increasingly in the workplace. According to a recent IPPR report ‘Who’s Breadwinning?’*  almost one in three mothers are now the breadwinner for their family, an increase of 1 million since 1996/97. 

Does this increased female representation then mean that male inequality is inevitable?  A concentration of male part time workers? Actually no, to put this in perspective two thirds of breadwinners are still male. However what is particularly significant is the reaffirmation of what Opportunity Now has always known: lack of equal pay and the career penalty of maternity leave are a family, couple, societal and economic issue and cannot continue to be labelled as solely or simply a women’s issue.
So what does this mean for employers? Well,  put simply, this should be a wakeup call to be ahead of the game, progressive, and most importantly inclusive. Recommended steps would be in the following areas:

Agile work cultures
As women’s salaries are increasingly relied upon rather than supplementing household incomes, agility in roles of seniority as women progress in organisations is pivotal to talent development and most importantly retention.  This is particularly relevant for maternity returners for whom career penalties are more likely to occur, such as not being able to return to the same level due to a lack of flexibility within the role. Ernst & Young announced a new maternity coaching scheme in 2011, where 900 employees have participated.  Liz Bingham, partner sponsor of the scheme described it as designed to ‘remove blockages from the pipeline’. (Read more in The Times Top 50 Employers for Women 2013 Focus supplement)

Inclusive Leadership
There can no longer be the assumption that female employees will hold all or the majority of childcare responsibilities. In fact, 43.6% of mothers (with dependent children under 18) that are in employment, work full-time**. Leaders need to have non-judgemental career conversations, seeking to understand how requests may evolve to fit changing personal lives. Set in the context of the findings from the IPPR report, this may increasingly mean men request an agile work pattern that complements their revised responsibilities.

Support for all the family (not just mums)
Work life balance  and family networks should be inclusive and welcoming to all. National Grid’s Families @ work scheme supports employees with children, elderly parents or caring responsibilities. Highlighted in the 2012 Times Top 50 Employers for Women Focus Report HSBC’s Balance programme is a fast growing network (1,000 members in three years) that actively supports the advancement and engagement of a gender balanced workforce, offering events and information around leadership, talent and organisational culture.

Opportunity Now’s Changing Gear resource outlines ten impactful steps to enable employers to create a more inclusive work culture.


  View the IPPR report ‘Who’s Breadwinning?

**  View Women and Work: The Facts from Opportunity Now