“I Didn’t Think I Could Take My Maternity Leave But I Knew I Had To”

And as we have an NUJ training course to thank for bringing the Unions21 podcasts into being, it was a great pleasure and entirely appropriate for Director Becky Wright and I to talk to NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet for this week’s episode.

Last week it looked like the BBC’s gender pay row had been resolved, with the news that Carrie Gracie has won her campaign – with NUJ support – for pay parity and that the Corporation had coughed up significant sums of back pay to retro-rectify past unfairness.

This week comes the report that the highest earners at the BBC are still almost exclusively male.

But what starts out as a discussion about the NUJ’s equal pay campaign at the BBC – very important in itself, with 181 cases running at one stage – spills over into looking at the role of the BBC itself as our premier public service broadcaster.

This insight into how the BBC works from a journalists’ perspective and why we are right to expect higher standards from the Corporation than other media outlets is both precious and revealing.

Presenting these podcasts, you sometimes get thrown a curved ball from left field – and when Becky and Michelle started exchanging their experiences of being working Mums – from maternity leave to work-life balance,  well, all I can say is it is arresting, deeply personal stuff.

Working Mums will, I think, be able to empathise with what Becky and Michelle have to say on this, and take heart from having two senior union leaders who ‘get it’ as an issue

And blokes, whether parents or not, will want, or possibly need, to listen to the clearest description of how and why this is an ongoing challenge for our movement I’ve heard in a long time.

Look, it’s not rocket science – employers tend to get some months’ notice if a female employee is going to take maternity leave.  And it is surely foolishness or arrogance (or possibly both) that would lead business owners to turn their back on the skills and expertise (and investment in training) possessed by women who wish to return to work after maternity leave.

The lack of flexible working practices is really a cost to business – a bar to higher productivity. Yet still there is reticence or in some cases outright refusal to have a sensible discussion about this. The trade union movement is not necessarily immune from these pressures, and in the podcast Michelle described how she felt it was not only possibly but necessary to take maternity leave whilst in post.

The Unions21 podcast is available both here  and from the iTunes store.  The NUJ has a campaign pageon equal pay.  I’ve written elsewhere on maternity leave, childcareand related work issues– and what we can do about them.

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