Negative impact motherhood could have on my career scares me
Broadside: We overlook the role of modern Irish father in today’s society, something Leo Varadker might consider
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the then minister for health, holding Jace O’Rourke from Kildare at Crumlin Children’s Hospital in 2016. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
As Taoiseach Leo Varadkar settles into office, I would like to remind him of a policy which appears to have slipped through the hands of Cabinet since it was discussed in 2015: a proposal for split parental leave.
As part of a wider childcare reform package, then minister for children Dr James Reilly planned to introduce a full year’s paid parental leave, split between both parents, which could be divided however the parents wished.
Unfortunately it never made it into the package.
As it stands, mothers are entitled to 26 weeks’ maternity leave with the option of an additional 16 weeks’ unpaid leave, while fathers are entitled to two weeks paid leave.
Varadkar was criticised recently for the lack of women in his Cabinet, and I would like him to consider this proposal as a practical solution to the problem of gender imbalance in the workplace.
If parents had the option of splitting the parental leave between them, it could really alleviate the pressure women often feel to catch up at work after taking maternity leave.
Furthermore, it would mean the sacrifice in terms of career which has to be made when starting a family would no longer be seen as a women’s issue - it would be split evenly between both genders.
Now think about the impact that could have on gender imbalances in top management positions. It would be a fairer, more competitive process if all candidates with children, both male and female, had taken the same period of leave to start a family or were equally liable to take time out in the future.
Employers would no longer look at just women of a certain age as being likely to take time out to have children - their male counterparts would be equally as likely.
I’m not a mother, and have no intentions of becoming one any time soon, but I might want to be at some point down the line - and the prospect of that scares me.
It’s scares me not because of the squeezing-it-out part, or the sleepless nights or the exchange of nice cool bottles for warm milky ones.
It scares me because of the negative impact it could have on my career.
This rumbling fear of mother nature interrupting my job prospects was compounded recently by a disturbing story from a friend who works in the insurance industry.
It was a conversation she overheard among colleagues after one of the women in the office was given a substantial promotion.
They mused about how bizarre the choice was, given the woman in question had “taken three years off”, almost suggesting she had been sunning herself in St Tropez rather than birthing three children and taking the maternity leave she was entitled to.
Is that the choice I will be faced with down the line? Have children and be seen as a slacker, or forgo starting a family and choose career progression instead?
Of course I am not condoning this behaviour, and in an ideal world we wouldn’t hear such a nasty undercurrent rear its head. But the reality is it is there, and it needs to be tackled.
Giving Irish families the choice of splitting parental leave between them would go some way toward levelling the playing field for women at work by sharing the duty of care between both genders.
Many women may chose not to cut up that time with a partner; for others it might not be practical and some women may choose to take a more long-term break from their career.
That is our prerogative - but the option to split the leave however suits the family best should be on the table.
In terms of equality, it also seems unfair that fathers only get two weeks paid leave to spend with their newborn child.
We overlook and undermine the role of the modern Irish father in today’s society by not giving him sufficient time to bond with his children.
We do him an injustice by presuming he is not equally capable of looking after his baby while their mother works and we fail the ideals of a progressive Ireland by overlooking his role.
In Sweden parents are entitled to 16 months’ paid parental leave between them.
Both parents have to take at least three months of that leave each, and on average men take one quarter of the total parental leave on offer.
What comes as no surprise is that Sweden has one of the narrowest gender gaps in the world, coming in at number four.
It is a striking comparison then to see that in Sweden, 12 out of the 23 government ministers are women, compared to just seven out of 34 in Dáil Éireann.
We need to ask ourselves serious questions about why this is happening in Ireland - and offer some practical solutions which may support women in reaching those higher rungs.
Splitting parental leave might not be a bad start.