Unintended gendered consequences: When family-friendly policies backfire on women

family friendlyNot surprisingly, we advocate flexibility and family friendly policies with our corporate clients. However, a series of new research shows  promoting such ‘benefits’ as being aimed primarily as women, can actually undermine their advancement as it gives employers an excuse to discriminate against them as potentially problematic employees. They see women as ‘not worth the risk’ of leaving or potentially needing costly support. As detailed in the New York Times by Claire Cain Miller,

For example, in the US, after the introduction of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, still one of the least generous programmes in the developed world, women were 5% more likely to remain employed but 8% less likely to be promoted than they had been before the introduction of the law. Similarly, Chile introduced a child-care law which required employers with more than 20 women to provide and pay for local childcare to mothers with kids under the age of 2 years. While the smallest employers often didn’t comply, many of the rest compensated for the perceived loss by offering women starting salaries that were 9% to 20% less than they had before the law.

Spain introduced a new law in 1999 giving workers with children younger than 7 the right to ask for reduced hours. It was predominantly women who requested reduced hours and in the subsequent decade companies were 6% less likely to hire women of child-bearing age compared to men, 37% less likely to promote them and 45% more likely to dismiss them. The probability of unemployment amongst women of child-bearing age also increased by 20% during that time. As explained in the New York Times: ‘ These findings are consistent with previous research by Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, economists at Cornell. In a study of 22 countries, they found that generous family-friendly policies, like long maternity leaves and part-time work protections in Europe, made it possible for more women to work — but that they were more likely to be in dead-end jobs and less likely to be managers.’  The answer is not in reducing the benefits afforded women but in making sure such ‘benefits’  flexibility is gender neutral.


Ban salary negotiations for equal pay

Ellen_Pao_2015After unsuccessfully suing her Venture Capital firm employer for sexual discrimination, Ellen Pao – darling of the Silicon Valley feminists, has now resigned as interim chief executive of Reddit. Pao, who had been at the company only eight months, put every effort into ridding Reddit of harassment. Pao made it one of her first moves to ban salary negotiations at the social media company. Burned by her own experiences, she seeks to eliminate gender bias. Many question the utility of this option, saying women should be able to negotiate their salaries as well as any man. In an ideal world, this would be true. However, research routinely shows even if we teach women to ‘negotiate like a man’, it’s not a great idea as we then penalise them for it, by describing them as ‘unseemly, selfish or shrewish’ when then do. In fact, other research from 2012 showed American men were more likely to give a better deal to women who flirted and flattered than women who adopted a gender neutral ‘let’s get down to business’ approach.

A follow-up study by business professor Laura Kray, found that type of ‘feminine charm’ worked because it put me in a more positive mood. Negotiating salary and other benefits makes the assumption that top talent want that type of approach. Kray however, found that undergraduate business students, particularly the women were turned off by the idea of working for companies that sacrificed fairness for profit. So a ’no negotiation’ policy may work best, particularly if you want to attract people who have historically been disadvantaged by salary negotiations; women and ethnic minorities.

As Kray wrote in the Washington Post: ‘A no-negotiation policy implies that an employer pays based on a job’s market value, rather than based on a job’s actual market value, rather than based on subjective individual characteristics. Laszlo Bock, chief of people operations at Google, recently extolled the virtues of this principle for eliminating the pay gap. Even making offers based on an individual’s salary history can perpetuate the problem, he noted. ‘We figure out what the job is worth, not the person,’ he said during a talk in Washington.’ Pao’s solution may be unconventional and will almost certainly continue to ruffle feathers, but we like that’s it’s an attempt to solve a real-world, rather than ideal world problem.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: Women in ‘geographically clustered’ jobs more likely to divorce

Moving houseSo families are more willing to move for his job, but not hers. A few months ago we highlighted this trend based on evidence that men are more likely to pick jobs that are ‘geographically clustered’ – that is there are fewer places where they can work; a common issue for engineers and oil and gas professionals. But what happens to families who move for her job?

Well it seems it’s a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Alan Benson’s research in the journal Industrial Relations finds that women who move for a spouse’s career and those to who move to advance their own careers are more likely to divorce than women who are in ‘geographically dispersed’ jobs – such as teaching, management, and healthcare.

Baby coming after this weekend? How new family leave will affect you

dad's sharing parental leave, female breadwinnersOne of our Female Breadwinner readers, Lily Donaldson, helped Money.co.uk write a guide on Shared Parental Leave (SPL) after she missed out on the benefits afforded parents having a child after April 5 of this year. In her article she explains: ‘Until now, partners were entitled to two weeks of standard paternity leave, and while additional paternity leave of 26 weeks was also available, only one in 50 used the additional leave. With the introduction of SPL couples will now be able to share 52 weeks of leave between them when they have a baby or adopt.’

This is a boon for female breadwinners in particular as mothers can share their allowance with their partners and return to work more quickly. Before, mums had to wait until 20 weeks after the child was born before passing leave on to her partner. SP Fathers will still be able to take two weeks of paternity leave straight after the child is born that won’t count towards your SPL entitlement. However, additional paternity leave has been replaced by SPL. Let’s watch this space to see if this enables men to actually take more leave…and for employers to understand that families are raised by more than just mothers.

Families move house for his job, not hers – down to job choice?

Convenience of locationIt’s been long recognised that families are more willing to move when his job dictates than hers. Traditionally, theories as to why this happens include gender roles which dictate that a man’s job is more important than his female partners or the fact that men on average have had greater earning potential – so families simply follow the money. However, a new University of Minnesota study by Alan Benson published in Demography suggests a 3rd reason may be the root cause – men are more likely to pick jobs that require presence in a sector-relevant location; women pick jobs that are less ‘geographically clustered’. Male dominated sectors such as engineering or oil and gas are based in certain hubs whereas teachers, administrators and healthcare workers are in demand everywhere. But why are women drawn to ‘geographically dispersed’ jobs? Early expectations may play a big part. If people assume that families will put a male breadwinner’s job first, it makes sense for women to be drawn towards fields that give them mobility.

Osbourne’s incentive for stay-at-home mums?

working motherIn the UK, there are currently 14.4 million women in employment, a record high, according to The Telegraph but the Government want to see nearly 500,000 more by the beginning of 2016. The Chancellor, George Osborne, stated: ‘Today’s Treasury research shows that women are playing an ever larger role in the economy, but it also makes clear that there’s more we can do to support women into work’. So how exactly does he plan to incentivise women back to employment?

The Government proposes to reform childcare to support families. £2million would create 50,000 childcare places across the country; and introduction of tax-free childcare would cover up to 20% off childcare costs for a maximum of £2,000 for each child. As an added carrot, the current government would extend the New Enterprise Allowance and Childcare Business Grants, which provided money to prospective childminders to start up nurseries in England. So far, these initiatives have generated around 4,000 new childminders creating 29,000 childcare places.

Childcare is a hot topic amongst all parties with Nicola Sturgeon, in Scotland last month promising to double the amount of free childcare available for three and four-year-olds taking the number of free hours from 16 to 30 every week if the SNP wins the next Holyrood election.

The proposals have evoked mixed reactions: Minister for women, Nicky Morgan, said: “I’m delighted more women are working than ever before – in the last year alone 350,000 extra women have been employed, giving them greater financial security. Women are making huge strides in the economy and it’s vital that their contributions are recognised.”

But not everyone sees this as progress. Laura Perrins, from campaign group ‘Mothers at Home Matter’, said: “Osborne fails to understand that mothers caring for children are working. They are caring for their kids.” She felt paid daycare places stigmatises stay-at-home mothers by suggesting paid work is the best way women can contribute.

We believe woman shouldn’t have to choose between their career and their family. The proposals encouraging stay-at-home mothers to go to work follow last year’s changes to child benefit which forced many back into the workplace.

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