Thursday, 22 October 2015

Baby blues

On 26 October 2014 my beautiful youngest child, Poppy, was born.  Its been a really good year, but earlier in the year my partner and I encountered some treatment linked to Poppy that caused us a lot of upset and heartache.

Given the recent publicity around #motherswork2015 and Best Companies style lists like THIS, I thought I'd share some aspects of this and how it affected us, along with my views on what can be done in the modern world about such treatment.

I've been prompted in part by reading two blogs from @HR_Gem on this subject, something she feels very strongly about.  You can read these blogs HERE, and HERE.

Go on, read them.  And then come back here.  I'll wait.

Done?

The CIPD talks about improving working lives and both Gem and I think there is a real need for a body like the CIPD to add its weight to improving working lives not just for mothers, but parents in general, and carers and grandparents too.

Maternity Action is a good group and well organised, but has the feel of a fringe protest group and it shouldn't.  It may take a body like CIPD, or the CBI, to wade into this issue before its taken more seriously.

There is a lot of evidence that pregnancy discrimination is rife in British industry.

And so I learnt this year.

My partner wished to return to work at the end of her full maternity leave but wished to do so on a part time basis, and submitted a flexible working request that took the company over two months to respond to, which in itself is unacceptable.  The response was to refuse the part time work on the basis that there was an inability to reorganise the work of the department.  They said she could only return full time.

As a result of this, my partner was left with no choice but to resign as neither of us felt our family could sustain a full time return to work.

And that might have been it, had I not got an HR background and could immediately see flaws in their process, decision-making and logic.  And helped my partner to do so and reach an outcome that we found acceptable (ultimately though still resigning and finding, almost immediately, an almost identical job on a part-time basis - which in itself made a mockery of some of the arguments put forward by the employer about the feasibility of and ability to recruit to part time roles).

The survey cited earlier suggested that this kind of situation is extremely common but that few women actually do anything about it.  We were lucky that I had a relevant professional background that was helpful, but how many other women just accept their lot and bow to their employers' demands or resign and struggle financially?

Worse, how many organisations have qualified HR professionals working for them who stand by and let this behaviour and treatment carry on?

What did we enter HR for if not to stand up for certain values and ethics?  Does our professional standing mean nothing?

HR's role is to support the business and to help it perform, but not - surely - at the cost of ignoring our hearts and what we know is right?  HR's role should be to be the heartbeat, soul and conscience of the organisation, upholding principles, values and ethics that see people treated fairly.

In general though outdated attitudes such as those that allow such treatment and those experienced and talked about by Gem shouldn't exist in this day and age, and its sad that they do.  I've been lucky to work for progressive, enlightened employers but maybe I've been sheltered from reality.

But the world of work has changed.  Back in 1996 when I first started working in a "proper" job there was very little technology, there was no homeworking, you could smoke at your desk, it was considered "manly" to have 5 pints on a Friday lunchtime and spend Friday afternoon doing little other than sobering up, you called the Chief Executive "Sir" or "Mr" and the executive floor had plusher carpets and nice smelling toilets compared to the other floors.  And that's less than 20 years ago.  So how come so much has changed so much but some other things, like attitudes towards parents and carers, have changed so little?

There's a lot of discussion about paternity leave too at the moment, and I've referenced Netflix forward-thinking approach to people management in other blogs - and here's how they treat parental leave - but maybe the UK in general is taking longer to catch on, despite some recent legislative changes.

I've been a new father three time and in none of those cases have I been able to afford, financially, to take anything more than one week off work.  The most recent time I added some annual leave on to make two weeks on full pay, but even two weeks felt like not enough and I think new fathers should ideally be able to take four weeks on full pay.  That certainly would have helped me this time last year when Poppy came along.  And my employer treated me more than fairly but I still felt like I needed more.

And now we have grandparents leave due.  I think this is long overdue.  Both of my parents, and both of my partners' parents, have long since finished work but I wonder whether any of them could have stayed economically active for longer had grandparental leave been available in days gone by?  Could this encourage grandparents to stay in work and contribute to the economy for longer?  Its got to be a good thing.

But what I've hoped to achieve with this blog is show that, in 2015, employers can still treat people badly because of issues related to their being a new parent, and that a growing minority of people now recognise that this is a bad thing.

Its time that we in HR stood up and shouted about this.  And upheld our values.

Till next time...

Gary

PS in other news, Poppy has her 1st birthday party this weekend and we are all looking forward to it - can't believe she's one year old already...