Thursday, June 30, 2005

Missing the point over and over again

Have a look at this article from the Guardian about discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace! Now I find the levels of discrimination described utterly believable. I have two particular friends who have attempted to work in finance and had three kids each. Both of them have had to get new jobs every time they got back from maternity leave because the job they left has been "changed" and they don't want the job they're given when they get back. They both also had significantly diminished pay as a result of their pregnancies. As the article confirms discrimination is the norm and occurs in at least half of cases.

So why does everybody interviewed on the subject play the problem down? The report itself, we are told, "Though it stresses the discrimination faced by some women, its recommendations bow to the concerns of employers". And Jenny Watson from the Equal Opportunities Commission says "Employers, particularly small businesses, need more help in managing pregnancy at work if they are to reap the benefits of retaining pregnant staff.". What about penalising those firms who persistently discriminate against women who are pregnant? It is supposed to be illegal to do so!

Trade and industry secretary Alan Johnson says "While the report shows that the vast majority of employers understand and see the need for the fair, effective legal protection that already exists". Sorry Alan, but clearly that is not the case. Clearly at least HALF the employers in the UK don't believe women deserve the protection that is offered to them by the law. We know this because they break the law and discriminate against these women.

We then hear from Susan Anderson from the CBI (the employers body) and she says "Most employers are trying their level best to accommodate the needs of pregnant employees, and illegal discrimination is not nearly as widespread as this report suggests.". So the report is false...? And where is the proof for this? Isn't it a bit odd to dismiss it without offering any alternative numbers or evidence?

12 comments:

Devil's Kitchen said...

"and that very small businesses can find managing maternity leave difficult and expensive."

You see, what this actually means is that "small businesses can be driven to bankrupcy by selfish women dropping sprogs left, right and centre." As an owner of a small business, I would never employ a woman. Sorry, but it's true.

Another friend of mine started a recruitment business, just over a year ago, with two other female friends. My friend is getting married in April next year, and had a big engagement party to annouce the idea several months ago.

Guess what? Not one, but BOTH of her partner directors are now pregnant. That not only means that my friend is not going to be able to have a honeymoon, because she is going to have to run the show, but that this fledgeling company is going to have to bear the costs of maternity pay for two directors, AND employ two other people to do the directors' jobs. Paying four people to do the job of two is wee bit silly and, for many companies, unsustainable.

The trouble is that women are, in my experience, THE most self-absorbed and selfish beings on the planet. Instead of accepting that the business system works one way and, incidentally, that their children might WANT to be with their mothers, they attempt to change the system to suit their desires. The result is a damaging of the fairer sex's employment probability: as I said, because of the stupid maternity laws in this country, I would never employ a woman. (And you know, women really aren't as good employees as they think they are...)

A friend of mine, with a PhD, has now applied to over two hundred jobs and not even had an interview: do we think that the possibility of her pregnancy might be a factor?

john b said...

"The trouble is that women are, in my experience, THE most self-absorbed and selfish beings on the planet."

LOL. Are you sure the trouble's not more along the lines of you being an utter arsehole?

Andrew said...

Sure, he used a bit of hyperbole, but his point isn't wrong as such. Plenty of small business owners worry about being able to afford to replace pregnant women. It's just easier to employ men, or older women. You can legislate to prevent discrimination, but it won't change much at the margins. Put it this way: In a choice between breaking the law and (likely) not getting caught, or going bankrupt and losing the business, which do you think the owner will choose?

john b said...

I do understand his point there - it's just that he gloriously destroys and subverts any credibility he may have had by lapsing into utter misogyny...

Presumably if one is a small businessman, one can buy some kind of insurance so that one's business wouldn't be bankrupted in such a case? If not, then there's an obvious niche for an enterprising insurer to fill...

Cruella said...

Yes I'd like to know his policy on hiring infertile women. Presumably if a candidate can present a certificate confirming she's had a full hysterectomy he would consider employing her...? And since he won't employ women otherwise I guess single women, just to survive, would need to consider elective hysterectomy. This has actually happened in the US in the past.

The fact is however that the difficulties women experience due to the impact of their pregnancies on a firms business are tiny compared to the difficulties they suffer as a result of misogyny, as exhibited in his own e-mail.

And yes, you can buy insurance against that sort of thing.

Also someone ought to tell him that it takes two people to get one person pregnant. So the whole problem could be avoided if those evil, nasty men out there just stopped letting us business ladies talk them in to so much sex...

Monjo said...

And yes, you can buy insurance against that sort of thing.

- you still need to train new people to do the work. I've read a lot of middle-aged women employers say they only employ older women or men. If we wish to protect pregnant women from losing jobs we need to remove the barriers to employing women of said age.

The other argument could be to make motherhood (or fatherhood, I'd happily quit my job and raise a child and let a potential hypothetical wife go back to work) a more glamorous option. This has to be done culturally. France has a rising birth rate as it offers safeguards to make child-care affordable and practical for working-women.

However, women, men, children. Can't have cake and eat it. Having a child is a HUGE financial commitment. HUGE. One of the possible issues is giving up work or altering your work. Then there's all the direct costs. Personal responsibility means when a woman becomes pregnant she must be responsibe for herself and her child - not be reliant upon the State or her employer. Many feminists would say also not upon the father of the child, but I think that's stupid as it takes two to make a baby.


BTW there's an alternative to elective hysterectomy (and I don't mean mass vasectomy) but just a contract where the woman could state if she gets pregnant her contract can be terminated.

Andrew said...

it's just that he gloriously destroys and subverts any credibility he may have had by lapsing into utter misogyny...

Fine, then argue with me. I like to think I still have some shreds of credibility. I contend that it is a totally rational (economic) decision to discriminate against women who could become pregnant. Studies show this to be empirically true, at least. What would you do about it?

Andrew said...

Monjo: I've read a lot of middle-aged women employers say they only employ older women or men.

I have an anecdotal for you - my mum ran a small business for about a decade, and operated this sort of (unofficial, of course) policy after being burnt too many times in the first couple of years when women basically took the piss with her generally good nature.

Cruella: Sure, it takes two to tango, but employers don't employ couples. They employ individuals. Until you ladies find a way to delegate child bearing to us gents, you're going to experience discrimination, because for every 99 women who are totally straight with their employers, and play by the book, there will be 1 who abuses that trust and ruins it for everyone else.

Cruella said...

Missing the point! My point is not that there is no financial impact on employers. Although I think that that impact can easily be mitigated by anyone with half a brain. My point is that discrimination which we are supposed to have made illegal continues and is widespread. You are all reinforcing my point with your innumerale examples of people you know who refuse to hire women of child-bearing age, etc.

The last thing I'm saying is that the government shouldn't help businesses cope with the extra burden of maternity leave. Of course I belive the government should provide as much help as it can to businesses with problems coping with that.

However we have, as a society, decided that we don't want to discriminate (law was passed a long time ago, whatever next, giving women the vote?!!) and now the law is not enforced. And that situation needs to be addressed.

Personally I think there are a lot of misogynists out there (and on here) who will jump at any excuse to discriminate. And yes even women can discriminate against other women, we all know that.

In fact the original article suggests that larger companies also discriminate. Both of the women I mentioned in my original piece worked for large firms and no additional cover was brought in, they did most of their job from home and what was left was distributed among other team members for the few weeks they actually took off. Yet both of them came back to a worse job than when they left despite, in one case, making business calls from the maternity ward itself within hours of the birth.

Andrew said...

Cruella: I'm not missing the point - you are. The financial impact causes the discrimination. That's the point. It is a rational decision to make. Making it illegal is irrelevant. Handguns are illegal, and yet we still have gun crime. Drugs are illegal, and we still have addicts and dealers. How exactly will you enforce the law? It is really quite easy to discriminate against pregnant women - you just don't hire any women of child bearing age. To throw the plod off course, you cite lack of qualifications, or relevant experience, or any number of other reasons why people don't get jobs...

And no, it isn't about misogyny - that's just lazy thinking by someone who either doesn't have the intellectual ability to analyse the problem, or is wilfully ignoring the logic. It is about cold, rational cost decisions. Women cost more to employ than men, all other things being equal, therefore more men will be employed than women. You might find it easier to blame problems on some phantom hate, but it really isn't the case.

Cruella said...

So you believe we should just turn the country over to anarchy? People will always shoot each other so why bother trying to enforce a law to stop them. Ultimately if the best way for the government to stop discrimination against pregnant women (and non-pregnant women) is by offering better support to companies, fair enough. I think a combination of that and prosecuting those that don't follow the law is what is needed.

If we only did in this country things which made economic sense then we wouldn't bother with schools or healthcare and we'd have mega corporations selling guns and class A drugs on the high street. We have government however to try to build a better society than that. Of course we need to balance the needs of society with leaving sufficient room for financial growth.

However we have decided as a society that we want a fair deal for pregnant women and for women in general. In the long run there are actually financial benefits to doubling the size of our work force. In the immediate term it can present logistical problems. Whether the one outweighs the other is not the issue. The issue is that we have decided to do that, hence why the law was passed, and now we're not meeting our own standard, and it should be addressed in the usual manner in which criminality is addressed.

Andrew said...

So you believe we should just turn the country over to anarchy?

No. What you have done there is to take what I said, completely misunderstand it, and insert a stereotypical 'right-wing' opinion that you're comfortable arguing against.

People will always shoot each other so why bother trying to enforce a law to stop them.

Firstly, because they're easy to catch. The presence of a dead body with a bullet wound is pretty good evidence a shooting took place. The presence of an unemployed or redundant mother is not good evidence that discrimination has occurred.

Ultimately if the best way for the government to stop discrimination against pregnant women (and non-pregnant women) is by offering better support to companies, fair enough. I think a combination of that and prosecuting those that don't follow the law is what is needed.

I totally agree with you. But you went into an off-the-peg feminist rant about misogyny, which is just wilfully misunderstanding the real problem, and what has to be done to fix it.

If we only did in this country things which made economic sense then we wouldn't bother with schools or healthcare and we'd have mega corporations selling guns and class A drugs on the high street.

That shows a lack of understanding of economics. We provide 'free' education because an educated population earns more and is better able to compete in a global market. This benefits the economy in aggregate. The skills accrued also benefit society directly, e.g. by the free training given to doctors, etc..., improving the overall health of the nation.

'Free' healthcare makes economic sense because a healthy society is better able to work and earn. It is cheaper and more acceptable than throwing people on the benefits scrap-heap.

Both of these things make clear economic sense. As for mega-corporations selling guns and drugs, that's so facile as to be beyond rational argument. Companies sell things that people want. Otherwise they go out of business. Most people don't want guns and class A drugs. That's why they're illegal.

We have government however to try to build a better society than that.

No. Government exists to enforce the rules that society collectively chooses to live by. It doesn't exist to make society 'better'. Better is not definable in this sense. My definition of better is almost certainly totally different to yours.

The issue is that we have decided to do that, hence why the law was passed, and now we're not meeting our own standard, and it should be addressed in the usual manner in which criminality is addressed.

Yes and no. There is a cost to doing that. If it took (stupid example) a billion pounds to bring each case to prosecution, we obviously wouldn't do it. The thing is to recognise the problem, and then deal with it appropriately, instead of regurgitating some sub-sixth-form agitprop rubbish that allows you to float through life without once engaging your brain.