Women will continue to lose until the business world changes

Nicholas Lovell’s admission that he has considered discriminating against women, and his frank discussion of why this is so, is refreshing. Contributions like this are exactly what’s needed to help move the debate around women in the workplace on.

My opinion on maternity rights, and the fact that many women leave work after having children, has usually centred on the argument that if it were made easier for women to juggle work and family, more of them would stay in their jobs.

So big companies and the government need to provide free or subsidised childcare, or at least put policies in place that make it easier and cheaper to care for children while working. In a perfect world, that would happen – there might also be more flexible paternity rights that would help parents spread the childcare more equally between them.

But companies don’t like spending money, and don’t care that women (and men) find it difficult. And Lovell raises the point that there are plenty of smaller employers who do care about women’s rights, but who struggle financially to support them.

He says, “Businesses benefit from a diverse workforce (ages, genders, ethnicities) and avoiding any one group eliminates a large pool of talent. But the risk of having a substantial portion of your workforce away on a legally-protected absence, preventing you from hiring and training a replacement or forcing you pay two salaries, is a huge burden to put on any business, let alone one built on such shaky foundations as a startup.

“And if I worry about this, what will less scrupulous business people do? They’ll do what [Prospect writer] Catherine Hakim warns about and avoid “hiring or promoting younger women at all”.”

This desperately needs addressing. The business world was built for men – its whole structure was conceived of on the assumption that women would look after the house and children, while men earn. Very little about its structure and culture has really changed since women entered the workplace, and since then it’s been a constant battle between the rights of women to flourish and achieve, and the demands of a business world that refuses to compromise.

But people do recognise, as Lovell says, that businesses benefit from diverse, talented people, and the ever-growing technology sector is going to increasingly rely on women who have so far largely spurned it (for whatever reason). The government is introducing an Equalities Bill which is extending maternity leave to three years, but perhaps it also needs to address the financial burden this will put on smaller companies – especially in a sector where innovative start-ups are important.

It’s difficult to know who should pay, but one thing is certain – if you want women to play a full role in the business world, someone will have to. Mothers will continue to leave their jobs, and take long maternity leave, until this struggle between businesses and mothers is somehow resolved. You cannot desire the talent and contribution of female workers while insisting they conform to a structure that was designed to exclude them – its very existence relies on them not working. People like Lovell realise this, and until government and the big business power players do too, women will continue to lose this fight.


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Thank you for commenting and linking.

The key thing for me is that the government *is* trying to do something about it and yet, for people like me who want to do the right thing, they may actually be making it harder, not easier.

And to be fair, I'm not even specifically talking about the Equalities Bill. This is an issue that I've wrestled with privately for several years, and it's great to be having the debate in public.

Business don't have a problem spending money, they do it every day. They do however have a problem spending money for no return, and if you hire a women who goes on maternity leave, you are spending a lot more money than if you hire a man. And now, you want businesses to spend even more money? What do you not understand about this? People aren't unique, you can get 100 people to do the same job, equally well. But now you have the choice of possibly paying more if you hire a woman. Not a hard decision.

Women will not lose whether business changes or not. There should be equality between men and women.

The decision to wait to have children until the heavy part of my career was past me was one that I made long ago not for my career, but for my potential future children - I want to have the time to pay attention to them, raise them and be involved in their lives and I don't think you can do that as effectively if you are also slammed with career demands, etc. There are cases where both parents have to work, but really, why can't you wait to have children then? Or do what needs to be done to set up the finances to have them? If you can't afford to live without dual income, is it fair to then also bring children into the world you essentially can't afford? Having children is a gift, not a right. Why would you have them if you can't effectively raise them, pay attention to them and afford them?

So, I purposely waited. When I am a mother, my children -- not my career -- will come first, but more importantly, I will have prepared my life for this. That is just responsible parenting.

I made this point on Nicholas Lovell's post but I'll repeat it here if I may because it's a bit of a hobby horse of mine :)

A much better system than the current prescriptive m/paternity leave system (2-weeks-for-men, 1-year-for-women) would be a year's parental leave that the parents can split between them however they like. The risk attached to hiring women is therefore spread more evenly between women and men, but the net cost to business is nil.

It wouldn't immediately even things out, but I think it would set in train some very welcome cultural change. Couples ought to be allowed to choose how they share out their caring responsibilities - they are currently prevented by a maternity leave system stuck in the 1950s.

In business, it is important to try to satisfy all stakeholders:owners, managers, other employees, customers, suppliers, the community, etc. i.e. everyone upon whom the firm depends for its survival and success, and that includes women in the workforce.

We need women in the corporate world, and with that comes the acceptance that there are pros and cons to hiring certain people, including women. I believe that a firm should offer a "reasonable monetary benefit" by way of payments during maternity leave and that the rest of the maternity (actual and opportunity) costs should be borne by the women's family, because a family is responsible for planning, instead of shifting financial and other burdens to outside parties for a baby that resulted from the actions of the parents. Some form of funding from the government and adequate (disabilty or other)insurance coverage would help.

Some cases of maternity may be more complicated than others and may require additional help for the family concerned.

The period of maternity leave will have an adverse impact on the firm, because the void will have to be filled in by an existing employee or by a new employee. Perhaps the employer should be compensated by the government or by adequate insurance for this cost, which may or may not be precisely quantifiable.

Anyone who wishes to have free abridged versions of my books on leadership, ethics, teamwork, women, trade unions, etc. can send a request to crespin79@primus.ca.

Maxwell Pinto, Business Author


Women such as yourself are unrealistic. Their talents and abilities are not worth the extra expense of having to pay for them bringing up their children.

Under communism this was done, under capitalism this does not make sense and destroys competitiveness.

You are advocating that society and business sponsors people who provide less value, simply to spread their genes. Sure, women rear more taxpayers, but the current system has worked throughout known history. You can of course use your political clout to enforce positive discrimination - I think you will be successful - but in the end, the country as a whole will suffer tremendously.

I think this is a great idea...people are always going to have children, and it's a cost companies are always going to have to absorb. It makes perfect sense to me to spread the cost between men and women, now that the job of earning money is spread between them.