How can we create a better industry for parents? Start with early modelling

How can we create a better industry for parents? Start with early modelling

Modelling equality from an early age translates into how people behave in the wider world. After all, equality and happiness start at home.

Thank you, Dr Grace Kite. And thank you, Omar Oakes, in his International Women’s Day opinion piece this week, for reminding us of the inspirational blog post Grace wrote last year.

I hope you know what I’m talking about — the one that’s neatly encapsulated in the headline: It’s not women that need fixing, it’s how the workplace treats parents. I want to celebrate Grace’s post and the continuing role it has played in stimulating debate. I’m here to applaud Omar’s take on it too.

More enlightened workplace rights are important — and that the rights of men in this regard are as important as the rights of women.

But I have a slightly more nuanced viewpoint. Yes, many women do end up living with a pay gap when they have children, but I’d argue that the remedy Omar sets out is not as clear-cut as he suggests.

Media can lead us out of our anti-family society

Policies only part of the story

First, a sample-of-one alert! Mesearch, anecdata — call it what you will.

Some of you will say my experience is not entirely typical. When we had kids, my husband (at the time a research scientist) gave up work to be a stay-at-home dad as two sets of nursery fees and travel costs would have wiped his salary. So I became the sole breadwinner and the pressure was on me to be successful.

I think I’ve done alright. Fast forward 20 years and our son is at university, our daughter is studying for A-levels and my husband is now a primary school teacher.

Of course there were challenges and clearly there’s still a way to go to create a better industry for parents. But let’s also start by celebrating how far we’ve come in the almost 21 years since I had my first child.

More importantly, though, we should acknowledge that government policies and legislation are just part of the story. Yes, we do need to improve them, but my own experience leads me to believe that this isn’t the whole story.

Role models

I regularly brought my kids into the office so they could see what Mummy did when she wasn’t at home. My husband and I wanted to be role models for both of them. And they learned a lot, too, appearing regularly in pitch videos when I worked at media agencies.

Equally vital, though, were my responsibilities as a role model in the workplace. I wanted the younger women and men I worked with to see that this was me. Yes, someone with a career but also, importantly, a parent — and what you saw in the office was the same person at home.

Too often, people only address the challenges when they become parents. Early modelling is vital. That culture of openness is important for all the life challenges we face.

As an aside, I read with great interest Jan Gooding’s recent piece on bereavement policies. There was nothing formal in place at either of my workplaces when my parents died, but the culture of support was vital.

My dad died in 2009 and I spent several months flying back and forth to Northern Ireland. There was no pressure on me to work, yet I needed to do some for my sanity. And when my agency found out there was no internet in the house over there, they provided me with a dongle. A small gesture, you might think — but a hugely important one for me at the time.

Lessons from Denmark

The bottom line is that leadership culture matters. Going back to my central point about role models — I’m currently reading How to Raise a Viking by Helen Russell. She is the former editor of Marie Claire who moved to Denmark 10 years ago when her husband got a job at Lego.

It struck me that the Danes are getting a lot of things right and maybe it’s no wonder that Denmark is one of the happiest nations on the planet.

Yes, they have great policies that we could learn a lot from — 52 weeks’ paid parental leave, for instance: 15 maternal, 11 paternal and the remaining 26 divvied up as the couple see fit.

The Danish way depends on its famed high taxes, but the public purse also subsidises daycare, which costs parents about £420 per month for under-threes, going down to £239 for ages three to six. Less than what Londoners pay for a week of daycare and delivered by highly trained and highly valued staff.

But, importantly, the Danes teach and model equality from an early age in the family and that translates into how people behave in the wider world. Enlightened parents engender enlightened children who, when it’s their time to join the workplace, arrive there with enlightened attitudes.

Equality and happiness start at home. Leaders need to convey that notion to everyone working for them. And I strongly believe that, like my determination to be the whole me at work, aspiring to be a role model lies at the very heart of this.

So, yes, policies are part of the story and, yes, they need to be improved. But I’m absolutely convinced that it’s equally important for us all, in the media industry and beyond, to foster a culture of openness and strong, empathetic business leadership.

Denise Turner is CEO of Route

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