The cost and resource of maternity and paternity leave is an overwhelming concern for SMEs and the government should be stepping in to help, according to researchers.
The Women in Business survey surveyed almost 800 women in SMEs and 96% of board level executives said that parental leave was a significant challenge for their business. Meanwhile, out of 10 business owners called on the government to provide support to help smaller businesses with the financial burden of parental leave.
Denise Friend, founder of Friend Partnership, led the study. She said: “Our survey shows that businesses are almost unanimous in believing that government policy for private sector firms isn’t fit for purpose, and that more financial support is essential when it comes to maternity / paternity leave.”
According to Friend, the problem was that SMEs simply couldn’t compete with the financial power of large businesses and the public sector. While she understood that large businesses had bigger budgets to play with, Friend said it was not clear how the public sector can afford such healthy packages to employees.
“It is totally different for large private sector businesses compared to SMEs – private sector firms can provide what they want; their customers and shareholders are paying. As far as I am aware, the question has not been raised as to why the public sector can offer competing packages – often with 26 weeks fully paid leave or even more – when that money is coming to quite a significant extent from taxes from the very organisations that cannot provide the same benefits for their own employees,” she said.
“I urge government to consider supporting the SME sector in a way that provides enhanced parental leave packages by way of tax credits or reduced rates of corporation tax,” Friend added.
Flexible working a mandatory requirement
The research also identifies the growing need for UK firms to provide flexible working, as it becomes a necessary requirement to attract the highest performing business women. 85% of business owners say they recognise that flexible working conditions are needed if they are to recruit and retain skilled female workers to their organisation.
But while 83% of women believed businesses had to offer flexible working to attract high-performing females, nearly three-quarters of business owners said that it was difficult to combine part-time work with a senior role.
“Businesses recognise that flexible working is a growing requirement for their employees, especially if they are to attract certain talented women, but flexible working represents a real challenge for most SMEs, and this is a difficult problem,” said Friend.
The survey also found that most working mothers believe the workplace and working conditions have improved since their careers began, but on a personal level they face issues with self-confidence, imposter syndrome, balancing career and family, and a pressure to be ‘perfect’.