This weekend I watched a debate on BBC televisions’ ‘The Big Questions’ about working mothers and their cost to small businesses. There were two very definitive sides in this debate; the small businesses saying they can’t afford to pay maternity allowance or cover when mothers have to look after their children, and women on the other hand arguing that to refuse a woman a job on the grounds that she may become pregnant is against the law.
Both of these positions are so absorbed in the problems associated with women working that they struggle to find, or even attempt to find, a solution that works from women, employers and, perhaps most importantly, children.
A lot of money is invested in educating women; through school, university and even beyond. Yet as soon as these women have a child they are placed on a ‘has-been’ pile with their skills and talents lost. And people claim our country has a skills shortage? How hideous when there are hundreds of thousands of talented, intelligent, hard-working women who would love to return to work if they could fit it around their family. This is not only detrimental to individual businesses but also to the country, and economy, as a whole.
The only way to solve this problem, for both small businesses and parents, is to change the way we as a society view and carry out paid work. This problem could have a silver-lining if people were willing to think outside the box and embrace a new way of working.
At WinWeb.com I promote a work/life balance for all my employees, and for those with young families this works extremely well- and the same could be said for my company. By allowing people to work this way I have found a pool of talent that others have overlooked. Can your business say the same thing?
Both arguments on ‘The Big Questions’ were missing the point. In order to reach a suitable solution both sides need to work together. By changing the way we work, creating an infrastructure that allows parents to carry out tasks from home to suit their families, nobody has to lose out. In fact, I believe working from home significantly increases productivity so, if anything, small businesses can benefit from allowing their staff to work flexibly; by giving a little you will get back a whole lot more.
In this technologically advanced world there is no reason that work cannot be carried out within the family home, allowing mothers to work and bring up their children, being there when they are needed. In modern society there is no need for this to be an issue of either/or. I know, from experience, that it is possible to have it both ways.
Being in employment and raising a family do not have to be mutually exclusive activities. As a society we need to change the way we view work, change the way work is carried out and introduce a bit of flexibility in to the workplace. The Supporting Parents in Business campaign is looking to raise awareness of the issues faced by working parents, and small businesses.
Would you be discouraged from employing a woman with children? Are you a woman who would like to work but feels you are being discriminated against? I’d love to hear your stories, please get in touch. Together, we can readdress the balance, and end this futile and fruitless debate.