Media can lead us out of our anti-family society

Media can lead us out of our anti-family society

Opinion: 100% Media 0% Nonsense

This industry should be asking hard questions about how we can be the most pro-family sector in modern business.

“It’s not women that need fixing, it’s how the workplace treats parents.”

I spent much of Friday, which happened to be International Women’s Day, reading a lot of comments and articles by women about women. Why are women still on the wrong end of a “pay gap”? Why are there still unequal opportunities? Have we reached “peak D&I”?

But what really struck me was a piece written last year that gets at the heart of why gender inequity persists despite an avalanche of good words and intentions to make the workplace fairer for women.

Because the answer, unfashionable as it may seem, may actually be to give men greater paternity rights.

Rights for all, not ‘allowances’

The quote above was written by the ad effectiveness econometrician Dr Grace Kite and I would highly recommend reading her piece.

Kite reports: “Men and women’s pay are pretty much even, right up until having children. But after having kids, women’s pay drops immediately and settles at a lower level for 10 whole years. In the UK, that level is more than 40% lower than men with kids get.”

Her LinkedIn post on Friday, and the comments in response, are worth reading too. Particularly from Google’s Erez Levin, who has championed better parental rights for both men and women.

That means, perhaps counterintuitively, giving men more generous parental rights could be one of the most empowering things our workplaces can do for women. Instead of workplaces making “allowances” for the people who actually give birth, make these policies a universal right for all parents.

That’s it. My column is done this week. Thanks for reading.

OK, a further small observation…

I’d actually go further than Kite: it’s not an accident that the workplace generally treats parents poorly.

We’re actually an anti-family society in the UK, the US and many other Western nations.

It’d frankly be much easier for government and business if professional people didn’t have all these annoying children taking us away from our Teams calls, making us pay for our crumbling schools with a bit of tax.

How else to explain why the goalposts keep being moved for professional people who want to have a family? The story we’re telling people at school is:

1. Go to university, get a good job, then “settle down”.

2. Buy a house and get saddled with mortgage debt.

3. Earn more money at work to pay for the mortgage — something that usually involves longer hours and more stress.

4. Then if you want kids — expect very little support from the government or employers. If you need more time off, be prepared to earn less and stall your career. If you need to hire people to look after the kids to maintain your company face time, you can pay through the nose for that too.

Because in any professional sector where you can easily slip out of a typical nine-to-five routine, the very time-consuming and expensive duty of raising children hits women hardest.

As our columnist Nicola Kemp pointed out in a superb piece last year: “Trying to succeed as a mother in the media industry is like trying to put a seatbelt on a swarm of bees.”

This industry is a professional sector and should compare itself to others, such as law, where they are more progressive in this area. Global legal firm Ashurst has given men and women equal parental leave for 26 weeks — since 2021. Others, such as Lewis Silkin, have more recently done something similar.

If the media and advertising industry is at its best when it’s at the heart of what really matters in culture, then brands, journalists, media executives and agencies should be asking hard questions about how we can be the most pro-family sector in modern business.

Doctor’s orders.

PS. Please read the thought-provoking content we published on International Women’s Day last week, delivered by our deputy editor Maria Iu and reporter Ella Sagar.

International Women’s Day 2024: Media industry sets out to inspire inclusion

Read The Media Leader’s top content led by women

Omar Oakes is editor-in-chief of The Media Leader.

100% Media 0% Nonsense’ is a weekly column about the state of media and advertising. Make sure you sign up to our daily newsletter to get this column in your inbox every Monday, as well as key updates with what’s happening at The Media Leader and our upcoming events. 

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