Ida Tin explores the differences between the UK and Danish workplace and how mothers are being made to feel like they should choose between their careers and family.
It is a sorry state of affairs when, in the 21st century, media headlines are still reporting on workplace inequality. More so, when that the root of workplace inequality comes down to a woman’s ability to give birth.
A new report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that in the UK, one of the world’s most developed countries, around 54,000 new mothers may be forced out of their jobs each year.
It reveals one in five new mothers have experienced harassment or negative comments from their colleagues or boss when they were pregnant or returning from maternity leave, which is eye-opening. Most distressing is the fact that a third of these women did not feel their employer supported them willingly during their pregnancy or when they returned to work.
We, as a society, have worked hard to promote equality in the workplace. Women should feel confident that they are valued and that their choice to become a mother is supported. It is the responsibility of each and every company to ensure that their employees are treated equally; and that women feel empowered to confidently make decisions about having a child, the length of their maternity leave and they are left knowing that they have a stable income and supportive job to return to.
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The fact that women are being forced to make a choice between having a family and having a career is something I am thankfully not familiar with, and I fear for a society where women may be dissuaded from perusing motherhood for fear of losing their position at work and/ or their employers’ respect.
Growing up in Denmark, I never faced inequality. I was raised in a society where men and women were seen as and treated as equal. It is common, not just in Denmark, but in many Scandinavian countries, for both men and women to take lengthy leaves of absence when a child is born. In fact, in some areas it is actively encouraged. In Sweden, many employers encourage their male employees to take six months leave, enabling them to bond with their child and support their partner.
This system works. This system eradicates gender preference in the workplace as employers economise and plan for both men and women being out of the office for long periods of time. By creating a culture of equality in parental leave, pregnancy simply cannot be stigmatised. Pregnancy, birth and new life is celebrated. Similarly, childcare is seen as an equal partnership. Employers expect fathers to take time off when children are sick or when they have a school play. Men are not valued on their ability to spend more hours in the office.
By existing in a world where men are valued by the time they spend at their desk, where a man will get a promotion and a woman won’t because she is of ‘child-bearing age’, we are existing in a society that is corrupt. Hard-hitting headlines will shock, but they won’t bring about change. What needs to change is workplace policy, and that starts with making men and women equal in all senses, in terms of pay, in terms of value and, most importantly, in terms of parental leave.