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It has not exactly been quiet of late in the world of gender diversity and flexible working. Every day brings another big report or news of events which warrant a strong response. In the last week there has been the New Zealand PM’s pregnancy, the Presidents Ball, the Modern Families Index, the Chartered Institute of Management’s Blueprint for Gender Balance, Women’s SatNav for Success’s report on what is holding women back at work, the Fawcett Society review of legislation relating to women and a Save the Children report on childcare costs as well as several other research reports.
It has to be a good thing that there is so much activity, but it’s sometimes hard to keep up and to look at the detail of the research and consider the welter of brief responses on Twitter before the next report lands on your desk. At the heart of a lot of it, though, seems to be the sense that things are, if not changing, then being pushed very hard in that direction, that it is work culture that needs to change, backed by legislation that encourages change, and that management is key.
Good role models are also vital and there is plenty of evidence of women reaching down and pulling up those below them. I wrote about Jacinda Ardern’s pregnancy and the importance of positive role models for women. I’ve read articles since about how a lot of the coverage may make women feel inadequate if they don’t follow a career path to the top. That’s not the intention. There is no one set way to be a parent or to be an employee or whatever. Everyone has to find what works best for them and their circumstances. The purpose of pushing change is to open up options, to undermine generalised assumptions and to get rid of any barriers that may be holding women back unnecessarily.
Shared Parental Leave is a case in point. There was an argument in the lead-up to it becoming law that it would force women back to work too early. In fact, the legislation is weak and take-up has been very low, but the point is that it opens up choice to parents and it also opens up discussions about sharing childcare generally.
Clearly there will be a backlash from vested interests to all this push for change, but with more and more women going to university [Oxford reported more women than men undergraduates for the first time this week] and coming out with good degrees and with a skills shortage in many sectors, the business case is undeniably in women’s favour. But it’s not just about those at the top of the employment tree. Real change needs to reach all parts of the work economy – diversity and inclusion is about supporting all employees to achieve their potential.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.