By Marcus Leach

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has given a broad welcome to the principles and ambitions behind the Government’s Modern Workplaces consultation.

The CIPD has also committed to continuing to work with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills through the consultation process to ensure the final proposals are workable and deliver the intended benefits for both employers and employees.

Jackie Orme, CIPD Chief Executive, argues that the objectives of the Government’s proposals — to reform parental leave to encourage greater sharing of caring responsibilities between parents — are achievable, but could be undermined by poor implementation.

“We welcome the principles and ambitions behind these proposals. The phrase ‘work/life balance’ assumes that there is a clear and impermeable divide between work and life. In reality, working lives and home lives overlap in today’s world to a greater degree than ever before," she said.

“At the same time, traditional gender roles in relation to parenting are changing. That fact has been recognised, but not resolved, by policymakers and business leaders alike. And it is important in the context of this consultation. It is simply not possible for influential voices in the business lobby to be, at once, firmly in favour of getting more women on to boards and closing the gender pay gap, as I am; against crude instruments such as quotas and compulsory pay audits, as I also am; but simultaneously against light-touch measures to support change to cultural norms that force able women to make choices between careers that fully utilise their talents and their roles as parents. These are choices that men are not traditionally required to make in the same way. Although that fact is beginning to change, the inflexibility of existing maternity regulations and the way they support cultural norms acts as a brake on progress.

“Successive reviews of the impact of male dominated, monocultural boards on business performance and the intractable gender pay gap have concluded the problems are multiple and complex, and that long-term cultural change is required. Done right, these proposals offer the prospect of removing state-sponsored obstacles to those already noticeable long-term cultural changes, in a way that levels the playing field for talented, ambitious, successful women who also choose, with their partners, to become parents.

“Growing numbers of employers recognise these facts, and they tell us they’re seeing significant shifts in attitudes to flexible working and the sharing of parental responsibilities. These proposals seek to remove regulatory obstacles that can prevent employers and employees from developing truly flexible, mutually beneficial solutions. They are a welcome contrast to the kind of prescriptive legislation that often militates against real cultural change. Instead, they are designed to give parents maximum flexibility to choose how and when to take parental leave, in the firm context of the need to protect the employers’ ability to run their business.

“We retain some concerns about the workability of some of the details of the proposals in the consultation document as they currently stand. We believe that parents should be required to take leave in reasonable blocks of time — no shorter than two weeks — if the employer is not to be subjected to unreasonable burdens. And we’ll be looking for reassurance about the adequacy of HMRC IT systems to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy that might be associated with the administration of these proposals. It will also be important that, however parental leave is organised, the employer should have adequate notice of parents’ intentions so that they have the opportunity to make alternative arrangements. We will continue to work with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills through the consultation process, closely involving our members, to ensure that the final proposals are clear, simple and workable, and achieve their objectives.

“It is crucial that the Government takes time to get this right. A failure to establish a regime that both employers and employees are happy with could fatally undermine the Government’s objective of giving effective support to parents, and of changing a culture that presumes women always hold the primary responsibility for childcare.”

Talking about the proposal to extend flexible working to all, Mrs Orme had this to say:

“We welcome also the Government’s intention to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees. This move is overdue and will help to break down the perception of a growing workplace divide between those with caring responsibilities and others. Many of our members’ employers already offer the right to request flexible working to all, in recognition of the high value many employees, regardless of their family situations, place on flexible working. Our evidence suggests that flexible working supports employee engagement and this has a positive effect on performance, benefitting both the employer and the employee.”