23rd August 2016
Both Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn have pledged to tackle gender inequality in the workplace; there are plans afoot to make large private and voluntary sector employers publish information about their gender pay gap, and there are already initiatives in place to address this.
From April 2015 parents have been able to opt to convert maternity leave (or adoption leave) into shared parental leave. Shared Parental Leave is for the equivalent period of maternity (or adoption) leave but it can be taken by either of the parents in blocks of leave one at a time or even by both parents together at the same time. This offers more flexibility to working parents, although the success of this, in terms of tackling gender inequality, will largely depend upon whether employees are aware of, and exercise, this option.
Another right that is open to either parent is the right to parental leave after 1 year’s service. This right entitles parents to 18 weeks of unpaid leave for each child which can be taken from the child's birth until their 18th birthday. The unpaid leave can only be taken in blocks of one week at a time (unless the child is disabled) and a maximum of 4 weeks can be taken in any year.
Since the end of June 2014, the right to request flexible working after 26 weeks service, has been extended to all employees. This, and technological advances that have facilitated an increase in remote forms of working, could enable working parents of either sex to request part time working, different working hours, or working from home, which may historically have been more traditionally associated with the working patterns of working mothers.
If shared parental leave, and other parental rights, are exercised by both men and women going forwards, and society starts to view taking breaks to care for children as less of a woman's prerogative, not only would this create a significant cultural shift in the way that working parents work and care for their children, it should also help to restore the balance between men and women’s pay.