Jo Swinson: Shared Parental Leave helps close pay gap

Gender pay gap picture via ShutterstockRecently BritMums had a hangout on air with MP Jo Swinson, talking about Shared Parental Leave. Here, she writes in a guest post about how shared leave can help close the gender pay gap, which has endured for too long. Jo Swinson writes:

This week, on Tuesday 4 November , we had Equal Pay Day — it marks the point in the year when women effectively stop earning because of the pay gap that exists between the sexes.

Over 40 years after the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970, the Gender Pay Gap has remained a seemingly intractable issue. But the introduction the Shared Parental Leave can help address one of the root causes of this unacceptable inequality.

Why do men still earn more than women?

There are a number of factors behind the disparity of rates of pay between men and women. Occupations traditionally identified as “women’s work” are undervalued and underpaid and the fact that more women work part-time certainly contributes to this issue. But a significant cause of the pay gap is the career penalty that women currently pay for motherhood.

Research shows that the differential in pay rates between the genders rockets once women reach the age where they might be considering having children. ONS figures from 2007 showed that the pay gap for 18 to 24 year olds was negligible at 1 per cent, and actually reversed in the late 20s with the median 28-year-old woman actually earning more than the median 28-year-old man. However, as women start to have children, the gap rises steadily until it hits 20 per cent for over 45s.

Women with children have an even wider gap

And the more children that women have, the wider the chasm in remuneration becomes. The pay gap between women and men with no children was 8.0 per cent. The pay gap between women and men with one child is 12.3 per cent, two is 14.9, three is 19.0 and for women with four children the gap is a staggering 35.5 per cent.

The evidence is irrefutable — it’s when women begin to have children that rates of pay begin to fall behind that of their male counterparts. Often the Gender Pay Gap might actually be better characterised as the Motherhood Pay Gap.

Awareness of the potential detrimental effects of motherhood on careers was reflected in the results of a recent survey by AAT, the professional body for accounting technicians. The survey of 2,000 women (half with children and half without) of childbearing age that showed that two thirds (67 per cent) were concerned about the impact that having children could have on their career, with half stating that having a baby poses such a risk to their career that they would consider remaining childless.

How Shared Parental Leave can help

The introduction of Shared Parental Leave can help to create a cultural shift that begins to address this situation by allowing mothers and fathers to choose how they share the care of their baby in the first year.

Under the new rules for babies due on or after 5 April 2015, mums will still take at least two weeks of maternity leave immediately after birth, but after that working couples can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay.

Both mothers and fathers will be able to keep a strong link to the workplace whilst still playing a full part in the early stages of their child’s life. There are many mums who want to be able to balance being a hands-on mum with a dynamic career and there are many working dads who want to be able to spend more time bonding with their baby in the early months of their child’s development.

Shared Parental Leave can help create a cultural shift in the workplace, getting rid of outdated gender stereotypes and making it just as normal for fathers to take on childcare responsibilities as mothers. The creation of a workplace environment where men are equally likely to take time out of their career to look after young children will tackle a significant cause of the pay gap and help make the Gender Pay Gap a thing of the past.

Jo Swinson is the Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire as well as Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Women and Equalities Minister. Find out more about Jo Swinson.

Watch the BritMums hangout with Jo Swinson and find out how Shared Parental Leave can help you.

Cover and top image by lculig via Shutterstock

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