Magazine article Management Today

Breaking through the Creche Barrier

Magazine article Management Today

Breaking through the Creche Barrier

Article excerpt


Much has been written in recent months about the so called `demographic timebomb', the anticipated decline in the labour supply over the next few years. It is well known that there is going to be a sharp fall in the number of school leavers in the early 1990s. The issue is quite simple; we have to find ways of increasing the labour force to compensate for the forthcoming skills shortage.

One of the answers has to be a better use of one particular resource - women; especially those women who have in the past been the recipients of considerable investment in terms of education and training but who have not returned to work since having children.

The opportunities available for women to work are significantly better than they were 10 years ago. There is legislation covering equal opportunities, maternity leave and equal pay. Increasing numbers of married women now work, but there is still a dearth of women in management jobs - so much so, that the Sophie Mirmans and Anita Roddicks of this world (who, it has to be said, have made it to the top of their own companies) are highly newsworthy.

Why then, do so few women make it to the management level, and what can be done to change things? There are two major barriers to women achieving significant representation in the economy and thereby helping to solve the labour market problems. First, there is the current inflexibility of working arrangements in the vast majority of British organisations and the lack of suitable childcare facilities. Often those women who do return to work successfully do so in spite of the barriers and because of their own resourcefulness, albeit occasionally with the assistance of enlightened employers.

The second and bigger barrier to effective use of this resource is the child-bearing career break. However much organisations pay lip service to equal opportunity, how many chief executives can honestly say they have not asked themselves the question, `But is she going to get pregnant and leave us in the lurch?' before appointing a woman to a senior position in their organisations. And, to be fair, can you blame them? There is always the risk that a female manager will become pregnant and take maternity leave and then, after six months, decide not to return. She is, after all, the one who has to cope with finding good childcare, arranging her domestic life to fit in with long working hours, and, if she works in London, commuting.

But, given the right conditions, a large proportion of women who have spent several years gaining qualifications and working their way up the organisation would prefer not to give it all up to become full-time mothers or to take mundane, part-time work because it fits with school hours.

The challenge, then, is two-fold. It is about providing the opportunity for re-entry to the working world and it is about providing the conditions under which this is possible. This means supplying more flexible working methods and hours, and supplying better childcare facilities in terms of workplace nurseries, local authority nurseries and - dare I say it - the tax incentives to employ nannies and mothers' helps at a realistic wage.

Some companies are starting to think about providing workplace nurseries, particularly outside London. But for mothers working in London and commuting from the suburbs or further, workplace nurseries are probably not the answer. The thought of travelling on our overcrowded transport system in the rush hour with toddler in tow fills most mothers with horror. …

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