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Why childcare needs to become an employer priority



Sadly, the recent news that almost a quarter of a million female workers are considering leaving their jobs due to a lack of adequate childcare support has come as little surprise.

Inherently, we are still in an archaic situation where women are likely to bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities.

This means that despite a recent surge in women returning to work after the regressive impact of the pandemic (where women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s), the reality is that soaring childcare costs and entrenched toxic attitudes around motherhood are forcing many to reassess the financial viability of working.

Childcare in the UK becoming less affordable and reliable

To put it into context, over the past year it’s estimated that childcare costs have risen by nearly 6%, taking the average price of a full-time nursery place for a toddler under two to £14,836 annually.

This is an issue which is being further compounded as employees flit between remote and hybrid working models, adding to the potential financial burden. 

At the same time, being a mother still has a long-term negative effect on progress for women, a term otherwise known as the ‘motherhood penalty’.

All too often, working mums are stuck in roles that are below their capabilities, are earning far less than their male and non-mother counterparts and are missing out on progression opportunities.

Add to that a deepening cost of living crisis and it’s easy to see why so many feel forced out of work.

Clearly, this is a situation which is becoming increasingly precarious and much more needs to be done to properly support women to balance their work and caring responsibilities. But what exactly?

Free childcare chaos leaves working parents unsupported

To begin with, it’s about creating a flexible working environment where all individuals, including parents, are able to flourish.

If the pandemic has taught us anything then surely it’s that employees do not need to be confined to the same patch of carpet eight hours a day to deliver results?

In this way, flexible working should be offered as a way to accommodate childcare responsibilities. Also, curating an open culture in which caregiving duties – such as blocking out time in your calendar for a child’s dentist appointment, working from home if your child is poorly or taking the afternoon off for sport’s day – should be normalised.

Equally, it doesn’t matter if an employee is part-time, full-time or on maternity leave.

It’s vital to involve them in all key communications so that they feel included, valued and part of the team.

Alongside this, employers should have specific policies in place to support parents as they return to work.

This could include everything from a mentorship, mental health support, regular check-ins with management and upskilling programmes.

Childcare subsidies or onsite childcare facilities can provide a huge help too.

Although the childcare voucher scheme is now closed to new entrants, employers could consider offering a childcare subsidy or allowance directly through payroll as part of their benefits package.

For larger employers, it might even be worth considering providing an on-site nursery.

Next, for example, has its own on-site nursery ‘Next Steps Nursery’ that currently is currently rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.

Childcare costs forcing mothers to quit work

Ultimately though, from my own personal experience of supporting mothers find new roles, it’s about being an employer that cares and which mothers feel it is okay to share their challenges and ask for help.

In this way, it’s far more than policies or provisions, it requires feeling, dynamism and must be lived and breathed from the top down.

In this ethical age, in which businesses must be seen to ‘do the right thing’ in all aspects of their treatment of the environment, society and their people, the reality is that we can simply no longer continue to operate in such a gender-biased way.

Add to this the crippling skills shortage and the commercial benefits of a more diverse workforce, and the reality is that missing out on 50% of potential employees does not make good sense.

Going forward then, surely it’s time to work together to stop treating childcare as a women’s issue but rather a national economic priority that is vital to our future?

Roheela Khan is recruitment operations director at Martin Veasey Talent Solutions

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