Unintended Consequences of Inequality
In April 2007, Britain extended its maternity leave benefit to a full year for mothers. Supporters were thrilled to see such a giant step in the direction of supporting families and their ability to spend time with their children. However, the BBC News reported yesterday that there may have been some unintended consequences of this legislation. It appears that "some employers were thinking twice about offering women (of childbearing ages) jobs or promotion(s)."
I'm sure it's already illegal in Britain to discriminate against women who are of childbearing age so it's not likely a new law will be used to solve this problem. Instead, a possible solution could be to turn the maternity leave into a parental leave policy. Even this move is not a quick fix because women would probably continue to take the majority of the leave, primarily due to cultural expectations. But what if the leave could be made a "use it or lose it" benefit for each parent. Six months paid time off for mom followed by six months paid time off for dad. Either parent can opt out of the benefit for any reason.
I realize there are other factors to consider here, such as how this idea might be modified for single parents, mental or physical illness or divorce, but I firmly believe that policies should be gender neutral if we, as a society, are going to break down the cultural barriers that reinforce inequality. And, as in this example, harm women.
Hat tip to Rachel, a generous reader in Estonia, for sending us this news story!