If British women keep taking so much maternity leave, no boss will want to employ them
By Julia Llewellyn Smith
Late in the evening at a dinner party, Anthony, the head of a department at a City bank, made a shocking pronouncement. ‘When we have a vacant position I don’t even look at women aged between 24 and 40,’ he said, as we passed the brandy. ‘The headache of training someone who might have babies is simply not worth it.'
‘You have to find and train cover, who you then have to drop if the woman comes back. It’s illegal to ask outright if a candidate plans on a family, so it’s easier just to write all women off and give the job to a man.’
I gasped in disbelief. ‘You can’t say that!’ I exclaimed. But several high-flying women there nodded. ‘Young women no longer figure in my organisation,’ one confessed. ‘They’re more trouble than they’re worth.’
It seems that, thanks in part to our country’s increasingly generous maternity leave, the dreams of equality of Suffragettes and women’s libbers have come true. Mothers can work in high-powered careers, take long stretches of paid time off when they have babies and return to work when it suits them.
A new mother will now, on average, take almost nine months off — compared with five-and-a-half months six years ago.
Over the past five years, the number of women taking all their maternity leave entitlement — a year, with payment of some sort (benefits vary between employers) for the first nine months — has doubled.
Yet could such leave actually be detrimental to women’s status in the workplace? Are fertile young women being shunned by employers who would have to fork out for maternity payments and cover?
There seems to be a growing backlash against it — even by mothers. When internet giant Yahoo! this week appointed Marissa Mayer as CEO of the company — despite her being six months’ pregnant — she announced she will take only two weeks’ leave after she gives birth.
Few women at the top take long maternity leaves. When she was French Justice Minister, Rachida Dati returned to work in stilettos five days after a Caesarean. Karren Brady, when managing director of Birmingham Football Club, had three days off after the birth of her first child Sophia, something she says she bitterly regrets.
But most mothers take months, or years, off work — despite the potential damage to their careers and those of other women.
In many ways, we have both the previous Labour Government and the Coalition to thank (or blame) for this: their determination to win female votes means the maximum maternity leave has doubled over the past decade to a year.
But is it possible for women to enjoy high-powered careers and take huge amounts of time off to be hands-on mothers? Increasingly, experts, including many prominent feminists, say the answer is no.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett is a leading campaigner for better maternity leave in the U.S. (American women are allowed 12 weeks’ leave, unpaid), but accepts that the long leaves in many European countries are backfiring dramatically, with employers overlooking women of childbearing age altogether.
A mother of four, 54-year-old Dr Hewlett went back to work just ten days after giving birth to her first child. Later, she lost twins when she was seven months’ pregnant. Her employers fired her shortly afterwards for ‘allowing childbearing to dilute her focus’.
‘I came at the issue of maternity leave as a warrior fighting the good fight,’ she says. But studying German leave — where women are allowed to take as long as three years off — led Dr Hewlett to reassess her opinion. ‘German employers were quite open about avoiding young women when they could. A mother of two could potentially take six years off work,’ she says.
‘One employer told me he regarded all women of childbearing age as “wombs in waiting”.’ Dr Hewlett also discovered that countries with the shortest maternity leaves, like the U.S. and Australia, had far more women in top jobs than in countries where leave is more generous.
But she also points out that in the U.S. far more women leave the workforce entirely when they have children, and believes longer leave would help keep these women.
In Sweden — held up as the template for family-friendly policies — there is the highest ‘occupational segregation’ in Europe, with most women working in the lowly-paid public sector, while men hold better-paid jobs in the private sector. Swedish women, who enjoy up to 16 months’ leave, are far less likely to hold managerial positions than British or American women.
In Britain, a similar state of affairs may not be far off. A recent survey of 10,000 British bosses showed only 26 per cent of them intended to employ women, compared with 38 per cent last year, and a third said they were put off by having to provide maternity leave.
The backlash can’t only be blamed on bosses. It’s also the fault of many new mothers — often middle-class, educated women. Rather than treating maternity benefits as a hard-won safety net, the first generation of women to enjoy them can behave as if they have a legal right to take advantage of their employers and colleagues.
Take one member of a baby group I attended in West London, with my second child. Miranda (not her real name) was financial director of a small business and openly stated her aim, during her nine months’ leave, was to return to work pregnant. She succeeded, worked for just six months and this time took a year ‘on the company’.
She then returned to work for 13 weeks, the statutory time necessary so as not to have to repay her benefits, before resigning to achieve her real goal of being a full-time mother.
My friend Keith, who works at the BBC, recounts how, after a round of redundancies in his department, many of his female colleagues quickly became pregnant. Not only would they have leave funded by the licence fee — but discrimination laws would make it hard to sack them, he says.
Even if women return to work (and employers can make no plans about it since they are legally banned from asking if or when this will happen), they are allowed to request flexible hours.
Meanwhile, 12 months at home may have left them lagging behind their colleagues in terms of skills gained and contacts acquired. Indeed, even women who support generous maternity leave accept it inevitably causes problems for them when they return.
Julia Hobsbawn, a mother-of-three, stepmother-of-two, and author of The SeeSaw: 101 Ideas For Work-Life Balance, says: ‘By taking huge stretches of time like a year, it can make it much harder for them to get back in the saddle of office life with confidence.’
In her own research, Dr Hewlett discovered that a couple of maternity leaves of just six months had little or no effect on a woman’s future earning power. But if she took a total of more than two years off, she lost for ever 18 per cent of her earning power.
If she took three years off, her earning power was reduced by 38 per cent. Because of this, many women choose to sacrifice time with their infants rather than damaging their much-loved, hard-won careers.
Michelle Rodger, 42, from Glasgow, who runs a communications firm in the City, returned to work 12 days after her daughter was born by Caesarean, 13 years ago.
‘What women don’t realise is how much harder it will be to get back on the career ladder once they’ve decided to take a long break,’ she says. ‘Women and businesses are losing out. A line needs to be drawn between what’s sensible and what’s not.’
One thing seems clear: our maternity leave arrangements — in which mothers are entitled to so much time off they are seen as a liability by wary employers — are far from sensible.
Angry friends accuse useless British police over mudslide couple's death as the case is referred to watchdog
It's too early to tell but had police acted promptly, lives may have been saved. That possibility should at least have been a guiding priority
The deaths of a couple entombed beneath a mudslide for ten days will be investigated by the police watchdog, it emerged last night.
Elderly sweethearts Rosemary Snell and Michael Rolfe were buried alive under tons of dislodged earth and rubble after their car was flattened by debris dislodged in bad weather.
Their friends yesterday spoke of their anger and disbelief at the police’s ‘outrageous’ delay in finding the bodies of retired surgeon Mr Rolfe, 72 and Mrs Snell, 67.
Now Dorset Police have been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for investigation after accusations were levelled at the force for not searching the debris because the landslide had happened over a ‘busy weekend’.
Mrs Snell’s friend Jane Fox, 61, condemned the authorities for trying to backtrack in a bid to put themselves above reproach. She said: ‘They’re covering themselves. Think about those poor people under there all that time. We are angry. Everybody is.’
The IPCC stated: ‘Dorset Police will be referring the Beaminster Tunnel landslip deaths. This will be assessed and a decision made about mode of investigation.’
Mrs Snell and father-of-four Mr Rolfe were found under tons of mud and earth at the entrance to the tunnel in Dorset on Monday – ten days after the landslide. Yesterday it emerged they had a romantic meal together at a local hotel before leaving early to deal with the terrible driving conditions.
Assistant Chief Constable James Vaughan of Dorset Police said no major search was carried out until it became known that the pair were in the area at the time of the landslide. He said police had had a ‘busy weekend’ and there had been no obvious signs of a vehicle buried in the mud. Asked whether he thought it was disgraceful that the couple’s bodies had been undiscovered for ten days, Mr Vaughan replied: ‘That’s unfair.’
He added: ‘This was a tragic, freak accident. It was a chance in a million that they happened to be driving out of the end of the tunnel when the landslide swept through.
‘Their car was severely crushed. It will be up to the pathologist to decide exactly what was the cause of death, but I would have thought it would have been pretty instantaneous.’
Western Dorset Coroner’s officer Andy Nineham confirmed that two bodies had now been recovered. He said that an inquest was due to be opened and adjourned at a later date.
Local councillor Ron Bond said yesterday he was ‘absolutely disgusted’ that the bodies had remained undiscovered for so long.
However Dorset Assistant Chief Constable James Vaughan claimed the couple’s deaths would have been ‘pretty instantaneous’ owing to the huge weight of the rubble.
It has now been revealed that Dorset police have referred the case to the IPCC to investigate the actions of the force in the matter.
A tweet on the IPCC Twitter feed stated: 'Dorset Police will be referring the Beaminster Tunnel landslip deaths. This will be assessed and a decision made about mode of investigation.'
It emerged yesterday that emergency services were called to the scene but left without clearing the mudslide as their heat-seeking equipment failed to detect any sign of movement.
The busy A-road had been closed to traffic since the landslide and was not cleared because emergency services and the council said they were dealing with numerous flood alerts in the area.
It was only when Miss Snell failed to keep a lunch appointment with friend and neighbour Carol Walker two days later that police began a missing persons inquiry.
They discovered that the couple had used a credit card in Beaminster on July 7 and eventually their inquiries led them on Monday to the tunnel, still beneath 6ft of rubble.
The weight of falling masonry from the bridge structure, soil and debris literally flattened the Skoda.
A police spokesman admitted officers had been busy after the public had inundated them with calls during the bad weather.
'There were 150 flood warnings in the county at that time, 180 homes had been evacuated, and 400 incidents reported to the police control room,' the officer said.
The increasing "incorrectness" of religious affirmations
Why should religious leaders, of all people, turn their fire on celebrities who use their popularity for public proclamations of the almighty’s power? In an age when media icons flaunt every sort of indulgence and depravity, prominent members of clergy should find more appropriate targets to scold than athletic achievers like football's Tim Tebow, basketball's Jeremy Lin or baseball's Josh Hamilton, who choose to flaunt their devout Christian commitment.
Widespread discomfort toward well-publicized professions of faith highlights a significant rift in outlook — not just between believers and skeptics, but between religious people who want to limit theological affirmations to church or synagogue settings and those who announce their ardent belief at every opportunity.
The newly elected leader of the important Reform movement in Judaism clearly shares the instinct to wince at the insertion of too many religious gestures in today's pop culture. "God-sentences do not flow trippingly off Jewish lips," writes Rabbi Rick Jacobs in his denominational magazine Reform Judaism. He goes on to suggest "a deep reason for our unease. The God-talk we hear most is hardly worth emulating. Watching athletes pointing to the heavens to acknowledge their savior after scoring a touchdown, you'd think God actually cared about which team won. While I hope God's presence can be felt in all places, including football stadiums, I find it offensive to reduce the almighty to a football mascot in the sky."
These indignant comments take unmistakable aim at religious sports stars such as Tebow, who hopes to add many Jewish admirers to his adoring fan base when he takes the field for his new team, the New York Jets. Of course, Tebow has repeatedly denied he believes that God bothers to arrange miraculous victories for favored athletes.
When Christian sports figures point toward the clouds or drop to their knees in prayer, they merely express gratitude for the Lord's grace and generosity in allowing them to perform at the peak of their abilities. Is this impulse so different from the instinct of many religious Jews — including members of Rabbi Jacobs' own progressive Reform denomination in Judaism — to recite the She'cheyanu prayer to observe life's milestones, like watching the graduation of a beloved child, or leaving the hospital after serious illness? We say, "Blessed are You, Lord our God, sovereign of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season." Our Christian friends express much the same sentiments, though sometimes with gestures rather than words, and without the Hebrew formulation.
If athletic contests count as an inappropriate place for reflections on godly power, then Jews might find it difficult to explain our traditional "bathroom blessing" (Asher Yatzar), recited for centuries to celebrate the normal functioning of our marvelous bodies. If religious Jews thank God each time he enables us to relieve ourselves, it's hardly outrageous that religious Christians should express their gratitude for hitting a home run or scoring a touchdown before 60,000 screaming fans.
Meanwhile, if critics of public religious displays find it offensive whenever athletes seek to "give God the glory" for extraordinary accomplishments on the playing field, do they find it equally offensive if great artists credit a higher power for amazing gifts that enriched humanity?
The musical manuscripts of Johann Sebastian Bach show him writing the initials "SDG" at the beginning and end of all of his some 300 church compositions, as well as attaching the same abbreviation to many of his immortal secular works. The initials stand for soli deo gloria ("to God alone be glory"). No one assumes that Bach expressed these sentiments to imply some divine favoritism for his music above contributions by his less religious friend and rival, Georg Philipp Telemann. Instead, Bach humbly acknowledged the creator as the ultimate originator of his miraculous creativity, much as a distinctly blessed athlete in our century might acknowledge the almighty as the true source of his own health, power and skill.
The argument against injecting blessing and praise into what Rabbi Jacobs calls the "fleeting trivialities of popular culture" maintains that association with such ephemera actually diminishes our sense of the divine. But the other side insists that expressions of appreciation to a higher power help place even our silliest earthly endeavors in proper perspective, without any alteration of our perceptions of God.
If a champion wins an Olympic medal, an Oscar, a Super Bowl, or even a significant political campaign, and celebrates the triumph with invocation of the almighty's reign, that victor doesn't claim supernatural favor but rather recognizes mortal limits to his own power. When the most admired public figures take time to express gratitude and share credit, it suggests an admirable quality of humility that remains in short supply in celebrity culture and the nation at large.
The Next Sexual Revolution Has Arrived
In July, 2009, Newsweek ran a feature article on “relationships with multiple, mutually consenting partners,” entitled, “Polyamory: The Next Sexual Revolution.” Last week, Showtime launched a reality TV show called “Polyamory: Married and Dating.” To quote from Newsweek’s 2009 article, it’s “enough to make any monogamist’s head spin.” And all this, of course, is being touted as a great thing, a celebration of love and freedom, a deliverance from the monotony and constraints of monogamy.
The Showtime promo pulls no punches and makes no excuses:
Narrator: The polyamorous lifestyle may shock some. But with American divorce rates hovering around 50 percent, these families are on the front line of a growing revolution in the traditional monogamous relationship.
Michael: I want people to know it’s okay to live a life this way, it can be good. Because it is. It’s beautiful. We love it.
Jennifer: I want people to know that monogamy isn’t the only way.
Vanessa: If it were socially acceptable, I think there would be way more poly people.
Tahl: It feels like how we really should all be living.
Natalia Garcia, director: I really believe that a lot of people are going to watch this show and their jaws are going to drop. And they’re also probably going to wonder, Am I poly?
Narrator: Follow two not-so-typical families –
Kamala: Mommy and Daddy are going to ask Jen and Tahl to come and live with us. How would you like that?
Kid: Yeah. I like ‘em.
Narrator: – that are changing the way America thinks about love.
Yes, it’s all about who we love, a statement we’ve heard before – repeatedly – in another context. Perhaps President Obama needs to allow his views on marriage to “evolve” just a little bit more? After all, don’t all Americans have the “right” to be with the person (or persons) they love?
According to the official blurb, “This provocative reality series takes an inside look at polyamory: non-monogamous, committed relationships that involve more than two people. Lindsey and Anthony are married, but live in a triad (three-way relationship) with their girlfriend, Vanessa. Husband and wife Michael and Kamala have many lovers, including couple Jen and Tahl.”
Tahl, for his part, cites this lengthy quote from Amy Thornton as expressive of his views: “A lot of people say no to more love. Why? Well (IMHO) the number one reason is they don’t love themselves. It’s the first place that people say no to more love. After that comes the perception of ownership and control in relationships. The…mentality is my partner is mine, and I don’t have to share. If I share I might lose what I have. Which of course is silly, you can always lose what you have, or what you think you have. People don’t know that though, and they aren’t taught to believe otherwise. It’s ridiculous conventional wisdom that few choose to challenge. Anyway, since that’s true, therefore I am willing to give up getting more love for myself so that I don’t have to share. There is also a perceived idea of lack, that there isn’t enough to go around. The silly idea also persists that there is one true love for everyone… …that’s the short version according to me.”
And to think: Some of us have been stuck in the stone age of monogamous marriage for decades. We could have been so free! In the words of one of the reality show’s stars, “Monogamy destroys family. . . . I feel liberated.” Chew on that for a while: “Monogamy destroys family.” (This sounds a bit like Dan Savage, who said, “people in monogamous relationships have to be willing to meet me a quarter of the way and acknowledge the drawbacks of monogamy around boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted.”)
To be sure, it is not just Showtime that is pushing polyamory. In January, ABC News ran a TV spot entitled “Polyamory: 1 Mom, 2 Dads, and a Baby,” while a January report on the BBC carried the claim that “Polyamorous relationships tend to be ongoing, sustainable, emotionally bonded, committed relationships with more than one person, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.”
But it is Showtime which has taken the lead, as the Polyinthemedia website announces: “The series will break new ground in introducing modern polyamory to a mass audience. Nothing like this has ever appeared on television. (Sister Wives and Big Love come from a very different place of religious patriarchal polygamy.)” To quote Newsweek again, “the traditionalists had better get used to it.”
According to estimates cited in Newsweek, there are more than half-a-million people in America living in polyamorous relationships, and if this is true, it won’t be long before the “progressives” among us will be calling for our children’s textbooks to reflect even more family “diversity.” (“Heather Has Two Mommies” is sounding quite passé.)
Of course, this is not Showtime’s first bold foray into the front lines of the sexual revolution. The network was already (in)famous for pioneering shows like “Queer as Folk” (2000-2005) and “The L Word” (2004-2009), all of which verifies what polyamory advocate Jasmine Walston stated in 2004, “We’re where the gay rights movement was 30 years ago” – and they’re catching up rapidly.
And there’s no slippery slope?
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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