What tosh - women can have it all!

Michelle Chance

By Michelle Chance, Employment Partner, Kingsley Napley

'Last week Nigel Farage expressed the sexist and outdated view that City women cannot 'have it all', and need to make a choice between having a career or a family. He said that women who have children are worth less to their financial employer than women without children who can be as successful as men if they sacrifice a family life. On that basis, Farage refuted the idea that discrimination exists against women in the City.

What tosh! In my work I see plenty of examples of discrimination against women who are mothers and not. I also see women and mothers with impressive client bases.

Farage's view seems to be that women with a client base are worth far less to their employers if they have children and take two or three years leave and then return to work - because they will have lost their client connections and relationships. In fact, most professional working women do not take more than a year's maternity leave, because they then have no right to return to work for the same employer at all. The law provides that women who take ordinary maternity leave have the right to return to the same job and those who take additional maternity leave (up to a year) have the right to return to the same or a similar job.

And do women really lose their clients in that time in any case ? Employers need to reallocate clients to the rest of the team when a colleague takes maternity leave, in order to ensure continuity of service to the client. However most consider carefully how work is redistributed to women when they return to work after maternity leave. They need to ensure that they do not deprive these women of good quality work or prevent them from re-establishing client connections in order to avoid sex discrimination claims. (Employers who encourage teams to share client contacts between them typically suffer less from loss of business when employees take maternity or parental leave, or leave the business. They also engender a more collaborative team environment.)

I often advise women to use their KIT (keeping in touch) days whilst on maternity leave to maintain contact with their client base, as well as just with their employer and colleagues. For those in client facing roles, client relationships and the ability to generate business is as important in many ways as market knowledge and technical skills. It's also possible to stay connected with clients via sites like LinkedIn these days, and interestingly litigation is increasing regarding who owns an employee's client connections on such sites when employment is terminated.

What about men who want to be more hands on with their children and pursue a successful career at the same ? Presumably Farage's views will extend to them too, particularly as fathers' workplace rights are increasing. A system of shared parental leave is due to come into force in April 2015. From two weeks after the child's birth, fathers will be able to share the remainder of the mother's maternity leave with her. This will be particularly attractive for men whose partners are an equal or the main breadwinner in their family, and there are an increasing number of such professional women in the City.

So far fathers especially in the financial sector have been reluctant to take up their family friendly rights because of fears that doing so will hinder their career progression, prospects and adversely affect their salary and bonus potential.

My strong view is that there will only ever be a level playing field for professional mothers and fathers in the workplace when more men take up their parental rights, so that employers genuinely believe that there is as much chance of a father taking six or more months shared parental leave when his child is born, as the mother taking ordinary or additional maternity leave or a father requesting a flexible working pattern when they return to work as the mother. The City may take longer to change on that front than the wider employment landscape. But only then will maternal discrimination issues and the classic stereotypes, as vocalised by Farage, truly become parental issues, regardless of gender'.

Michelle Chance is an Employment Partner at Kingsley Napley LLP and is also Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Association of Professional Working Parents.

Michelle can be contacted on 020 7566 2925 or mchance@kingsleynapley.co.uk

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