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Summer holiday season: the childcare conundrum continues

Summer holiday season: the childcare conundrum continues

As schools break-up for the holidays this week, the exciting prospect of a long, hot summer will be tempered in many households by the annual childcare conundrum. Particularly where both parents work full-time, they may find themselves grappling with a patchwork of arrangements.

These range from help from relatives and friends, paid-for childcare such as holiday clubs, taking unpaid parental leave or taking annual leave. For some, annual leave must be taken by parents consecutively to cover the necessary period, robbing them of the opportunity of a family holiday together.

Parenting problems

Instead of being a time of relaxation and fun, the long summer holiday can be problematic for many parents. It is perhaps the most extreme example of just how difficult it is in the UK to combine participation in the workforce with raising children.

The school holiday system is literally a relic from another age; back in the day, the long summer holiday allowed children to help their families in the fields preparing for harvest! And, unlike in many parts of Europe, where the annual August shut-down is a reality for many businesses, most UK workplaces don’t seem to acknowledge that their employees may be juggling more than usual during this extended period.

Practical progress?

Of course, there has been some progress, with increased flexible, part-time and term-time working at least enabling greater participation in work by those with primary caring responsibility. But let’s be frank, this usually means Mum and these roles are generally lower paid. Also, the trade-off for greater flexibility seems to be a general acceptance that your career is going into a cul-de-sac; how many CEOs do you know who only work in term time?

Does this explain the gender pay gap and brain drain?

No wonder we have such a stubborn gender pay gap in many sectors in the UK – for too many women it seems, a successful, full-time career just doesn’t mix with the practical realities of having children; the frameworks and support just aren’t there. I’ve seen that first hand over the years in the legal sector as many skilled, talented women I have worked with have felt forced to opt-out.

Again, this is slowly changing. As we saw at our Diversity in Law event (Stop the brain drain – changing the culture in law for women in law) earlier in the year, many law firms are doing much to try and help women further their careers in a more balanced way.

The future for happy holidays?

Not all the necessary changes can be implemented by employers alone. A change in attitudes and culture is needed. While the pandemic appears to have accelerated greater acceptance of working from home and flexible working, the government also needs to play its part in incentivising meaningful progress.

At Nexa, we hope that our flexible model offering freedom to work when you want, goes some way to alleviating the stresses of childcare for many of our consultant lawyers, not just the Mums, but enabling the Dads to play their part too.

Happy holidays everyone!

Nigel Clark, CEO

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