Justine Roberts is the founder and CEO of Mumsnet.
When I started Mumsnet, I wanted to run a business that recognized that for most parents, family comes first and work comes second. In recent years, as the pandemic has forced us to embrace different ways of working, we have seen more and more companies embrace this idea, or at least tolerate it.
But there remains a perplexing practice among employers that makes absolutely no sense: the practice of keeping maternity and paternity leave policies a closely guarded secret from potential employees.
Currently, companies are not required to be open about the parental leave they give their employees and less than half of the FTSE100 publish their policies. This means that if you are a woman thinking about having children and you are looking for a job, you have a choice. You can ask about parental leave policies at the application stage and risk discrimination in the process. A Mumsnet survey found that more than 70 percent of employers and recruiters agree that employers and recruiters in general discriminate against pregnant women. Or, you may spend your time and energy applying for a job that may not fit with your future plans.
Given the importance of this information, it’s incomprehensible that some companies proactively refuse to share it, even when bragging about free fruit or pet-friendly policies. That’s why Mumsnet is calling on the government to act and make it mandatory for large companies to post their paternity leave policies, and in the meantime we encourage employers to voluntarily post this information.
Requiring employers to publish their policies would be a powerful incentive to improve the quality of their offer, allay expectant parents’ fears about discrimination, and help companies attract employees. Last year, Vodafone research found that more than a third (37%) of people, and more than half (55%) of 18-34 year olds, would be more likely to apply for a job if knew the employer had good parental leave policies. And we know that in the absence of transparency, potential employees make negative assumptions. As one Mumsnet user wrote: “I would always assume (perhaps wrongly) that a company hesitant to share this is offering the bare minimum.”
As the founder and CEO of a thriving SME, I am well aware of concerns about placing more regulatory burdens on businesses. But the government’s own analysis has found that most organizations find it easy to comply with reporting standards on the gender pay gap. The parental leave posting process would be just as easy, if not easier, than that process. Most companies will already have a section on their website to share benefits information; it would simply be a matter of making sure that this information is included.
We saw welcome progress from this government in 2019, when ministers consulted on the idea of making publication of parental leave mandatory. The idea was supported by the vast majority of those who responded to the consultation, and the government promised to consider it as part of its review of the impact of the Gender Pay Gap Reporting Regulations. But this review has come and gone and while it acknowledged that half of employers are taking no action to reduce their gender pay gap, it has not proposed any action to remedy this.
Until relatively recently, everything was based on the idea that one parent (dad) would go out to work and the other (mom) would stay home with the baby. And while things have changed, and frankly most families can’t survive on wages these days, in many ways women and families are still forced to work within the confines of a system that refuses to acknowledge the reality of their lives.
This government has taken two laudable steps to begin to remedy this, with the planned expansion of childcare support and legislative change to make it easier for employees to apply for flexible work, measures that will support those who are already parents. By also taking the simple step of forcing companies to publish their parental leave policies, they will allow those considering paternity to plan their personal futures in the context of their working lives.
The release of parental leave is a small, free change for companies that fosters a race to the top for employers, helps address the gender pay gap, and empowers potential employees to make informed decisions. It also gives this Government a chance to show that they understand the dynamics of modern working families and the challenges they face, and that they want to make their lives easier. They should seize this opportunity.