Free IVF is really not the answer to gender pay gap – do not put off kids for sake of a job

WHILE I believe in the power of hard work, I really do not believe in sacrificing your life as a result.

So a City law firm’s “perk” of offering £45,000 to start a family sounds like a poisoned chalice to me.


That fee includes payment for surrogate mothers as well as IVF and egg-freezing treatment.

So this “perk” sounds to me like an attempt to squeeze every last drop out of their employees during their most fertile years while encouraging them to delay motherhood.

And when you can’t get pregnant? Don’t worry: the firm will buy you a baby.

I know there is a prevailing view that a career and motherhood don’t mix.

But my advice to any ambitious young woman is: If you want children, do not put it off for the sake of a job.

Of all the titles I have, working mother is the one that suits me best, because my family and my work are the two most important things in the world to me.

'CAREER SUICIDE'

I had my first child when I was 26, and I was running Birmingham City FC at the time. Lots of people thought I was mad to do it while building a successful career. But, frankly, there is no right time to have a child. I refused to believe that it was career suicide.

I took the view that any time would be difficult, but I couldn’t imagine my life without having kids. So I thought that I may as well just get on with it.

Of course it was not easy. And I had to make tough choices. The shame I feel about having less than a week’s maternity leave will be with me until my dying day. But at the time I felt I had no choice.

Three days after giving birth I went to my office to sack the club manager.
Then the following day I was interviewing for a new manager.

I remember having a meeting with one of these potential managers which lasted a few hours.

When he left, I went to the bathroom and realised my breast milk had soaked through my top and jacket, leaving two large wet patches.

No one in the meeting mentioned it (they were all men!) and what they must have made of it, God only knows.

Nothing prepares you for the total exhaustion of motherhood. I craved an early night and a lie in. I was lucky I had a full-time nanny which allowed me to work but then I felt guilty not being at home with them all the time.

I spent years juggling home and work, often not getting the balance right.

When I finally realised I could only do the best I could, the pressure eased.
And then I began to really enjoy ­working motherhood.

My kids are great. Not because a nanny drove them to school and picked them up. Because they learned positive things from having a working parent — the value of having opinions, earning your own money, ambition.

I took my children to all my places of work so they could visualise where I was when I wasn’t with them.

‘IT’S RECOGNITION THAT HAVING KIDS & CAREER IS DIFFICULT’

Words like work-life balance did not exist in the Nineties, and frankly, I didn’t realise you could have one.

I spent all day at work and all my spare time with the kids. The last thing on my list was myself.

I wish someone had told me that a career lasts a lifetime and taking time off to have kids is a necessity.

Asking a woman to give you their best years then “rewarding” them with fertility treatment when they are, ­technically, “geriatric” mums is not right.

It’s an implicit recognition that having kids and a career is difficult.

That they would prefer their employees to spend their fertile years working hard instead of having babies. And the reward is fertility treatment.

Given how gruelling IVF treatment can be, and how often it can fail, it doesn’t seem much of a reward to me.

Women can do so much these days it is easy for them to feel lulled into a false sense of security about the window in which it is safe for them to have a baby.

Yes, you can become a mum at 50 — and that is great — but biologically speaking there are many reasons it is supposed to happen earlier.

My view is that the best thing a ­company can do is offer extended maternity leave, help towards childcare, flexible working and encourage more men to take longer paternity leave.

And we also need to treat working mothers better. A recent study said that 54,000 women a year leave their jobs because they are so badly treated when they return from maternity leave.

They often lose out on promotion and this is where the gender pay gap starts. It stinks. And, believe me, the solution is not an IVF fund.

Office work has its perks

Boris Johnson has said he is ruling out giving office workers a legal right to work from home after lockdown ends.

The PM wants a great return to offices, saying there are “significant benefits” to working together. I agree.

It is so much better to be surrounded by people, exchanging ideas, building bonds and friendships, understanding people better and generally communicating in ways that you cannot effectively do online.

Think for a minute about The Apprentice, which aims primarily to test whether people with very different thought-processes, backgrounds and ideas can work as a team.

It is all about bouncing ideas off each other, finding solutions, and being creative.

Can you imagine how The Apprentice on Zoom would work? How could Lord Sugar work with someone who worked from home all the time?

Can you imagine him pointing his finger and saying: “You’re fired” over Zoom?

The Apprentice also tests people’s motivation and discipline. Yes: they really do only get 20 minutes to be up, ready and out the house.

'AN ESSENTIAL BOUNDARY'

When you do not have a reason to get up and dressed, that motivation dwindles.

Going to work offers an essential boundary. It puts a buffer between home and work environments that is essential.

It means that you are not out of sight – you can’t catch your boss’s eye when they can’t see you.

It is easy for people to feel and perhaps become irrelevant.

That is not just my view: a new report by the Tony Blair Institute this week estimated that six million UK jobs have the potential to be moved overseas, including 18 per cent of professional white-collar “work anywhere” roles.

In other words, if you show the company that it can flourish without you then you risk your role being outsourced to Bangalore.

And then there are all the many things that you simply cannot replicate with all the Zoom calls in the world.

Jokes, after-work drinks, gossip, networking, learning from colleagues.

When it comes to the health and functionality of a team, I think three days in and two days at home is about the least you can get away with before people risk spiralling off into their own orbit – and work begins to suffer.

Women robbed

I find it depressing but not entirely surprising that a new study finds finance is still a male-dominated profession that lets mediocre men rise to the top.

It says male middle managers – more adept at internal politics – hold back women.

As a result, talented women are left behind by the City’s deeply entrenched male culture, says the research by the London School of Economics and non-profit group Women In Banking And Finance.

We really need to see an end to the days of mediocre men rising to the top at the expense of talented women.

‘Skinny-shaming’ is just as unacceptable

I think that most of us have got the memo now that it’s simply unacceptable to make fat jokes any more.

But isn’t it funny how many people still think it’s OK to tell people they are too thin?

TV host Julia Bradbury was “skinny-shamed” for sharing a bikini snap over the weekend, with social media users saying she looked unwell and needed to eat a bag of chips.

Talking about it on Lorraine, she said that she is robust enough to handle it.

But plenty of people would find that quite devastating. Just in case you do not realise, “skinny-shaming” is as bad as fat-shaming.

Strife as wife

So, the head of the world’s biggest family – Ziona Chana, who had 39 wives, 94 children, 14-daughters-in-law and 33 grandchildren – has died.

This Hugh Hefner figure, who lived in a 100-room house in the Indian state of Mizoram, developed a rota system to determine which one of his wives would share his bed on any given night.

There is so much to say about this story and my main thought is that it must have been a night-mare getting the wedding anniversaries right.

But the most telling thing of all is that, in the picture of him standing alongside his 39 wives, not one of them had a smile on her face.

Fit at 56

You’ve got to love Liz Hurley for giving us all a bit of joy by dancing in her bikini to celebrate turning 56.

Well, it certainly cheered me up anyway – we can use all the joyfulness we can get at the moment.

I also love her for showing the world just how fabulous 56 looks – for some people, at least.

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