Knocked up and out of the Game?

No procreation!

No procreation!

The proposition to raise the amount of paternity leave available to fathers signals recognition of the desire of some men to take on more involvement in bringing up their children. This has cast a new angle on the ‘conflict’ between raising a family and serving the interests of business; with business leaders and owners of small businesses voicing their legitimate concerns on the impact of this legislation on the economy, particularly in this time of economic uncertainty.

A well-rehearsed female drama

The core of the detracting arguments is the fear of employing staff of childbearing age. Of course; women are aware of this issue – to the point of wearied familiarity, to the extent that every women in her ‘fertile years’; including those who have no intention of having children; sense an undercurrent of suspicion from their employers, who question their long-term commitment to the organisation they work for. Barriers to senior executive positions are maintained and gender-based pay discrepancies are justified with the standard argument that at some point, ‘they will just go off and get pregnant’ merely because they are biologically equipped to.

Reconsidering the modern work ethic

It seems as if a review of the modern work ethic requires a shift in thinking. Our current capitalist model influenced by Industrial Revolution orthodoxy appears as rigid and outmoded in relation to the complexities of modern lifestyles. The concept of productivity itself – wedding productivity to labour broken down into units of time may have been clearly applicable in the manufacturing model of the Industrial Revolution but cannot be so easily applied in the contemporary work setting. An individual’s mere physical presence in the office does not necessarily translate to that individual being a unit of optimum production. Moreover, unlike other work-related ‘resources’, such as computer hardware, premises and intellectual property, ‘human resources’ are not static utilities, subject to dispassionate quantification in the context of their value to the organisational balance sheet.

Getting real

There are several social realities which need to be accommodated in the modern employment relationship, which stubbornly persists in a separate domain to the necessity of procreation. The increase in geographical mobility has all but severed the traditional link of childcare support provided by the extended family, which could be relied upon just a generation ago. Economic necessity also dictates that many households, particularly with children, are unable to survive on a single income.

Bearing these current realities in mind, it would be more constructive to review the role of employment with the aim of acknowledgement as a starting point, as opposed to hostile resistance. The latter position emanates from an assumption that the employment contract constitutes a document of ownership within the contracted hours of work and by extension, the interests of the business must always be paramount over every other priority which the individual may have. This is not only unrealistic but also perpetuates a barrier to any meaningful, progressive solutions to this issue. Working towards a model of integrating the very ‘human’ choices that people make in their lives is an encouraging direction and I believe that increasing the amount of paternity leave is a good start in giving families real choices in how they shape their own priorities.

However, hard legislation can only go so far, for real solutions require an attitudinal shift, combining utilisation of sources including technological advances, affordable childcare and the restructuring of working patterns. Such a shift in attitude towards balanced dialogue, considering the realities from all perspectives will allow the entertainment of creative, visionary solutions and choices.

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