Award-winning engineer Olga Fitzroy on why the biz should embrace shared parental leave to help close the gender pay gap

Award-winning engineer Olga Fitzroy on why the biz should embrace shared parental leave to help close the gender pay gap

While 2017 was dominated by headlines about sexual harassment and abuse in the entertainment industries, these aren’t the only things holding women back in their careers.

The ‘motherhood penalty’ is one of the key causes of the gender pay gap, with the gap rising from 5% for women in their 20s, to 33% in the 12 years after a woman has her first child.

I had been lucky enough not to experience serious discrimination or harassment in my professional life, but this all changed when I had my son in 2015. While clients and studios were accommodating and loyal, (I breastfed my baby in the control room at Abbey Road whilst printing a mix - glad those days are behind me!) the government had other ideas.

While the £140 a week Maternity Allowance I received was better than nothing, there was no option for me to share my leave equally with my husband. I was restricted to working for only 10 “keeping in touch” (KIT) days while on leave.

I challenge anyone to keep a business afloat for nine months while only working 10 days. Needless to say I stopped my maternity allowance early.

Introduced by the coalition government in 2015, Shared Parental Leave was supposed to level the playing field when it came to childcare.

Yet a huge proportion of the 150,000 people working in music are self-employed, and are therefore not eligible. Although self-employed mothers get Maternity Allowance, self-employed dads cannot claim a single day of paid leave.

Many families of musicians, composers, music producers and touring crew are therefore forced to revert to a 1950s stereotype.

The MPG and UK Music, as part of their on-going work on diversity, have given many man-hours of support to my campaign, Parental Pay Equality, to give the self-employed the flexibility of Shared Parental Leave.

On Equal Pay day last year we published an open letter to the Prime Minister, signed by artists – including Coldplay, Keane, Bond, Laura Marling and Ed Harcourt – as well as the MU, BASCA, Help Musicians, and over 30 cross-party MPs.

All of our high-profile artists rely hugely on the UK’s vast pool of freelance talent, whether in the studio, on the road, in management, publishing or PR.

The current system makes it harder for women to remain part of that talent pool and causes untold stress for thousands of families.

We asked that Shared Parental Leave be made available to self-employed parents. We pointed out that the cost to the taxpayer would be minimal, as the money set aside for Maternity Allowance would simply be made available to both parents to share, for the same number of qualifying maternities.

Shared Parental Leave for the self-employed has been on the political agenda ever since the Taylor Review recommended it in June.

There was a Prime Minister’s question from Tracy Brabin MP on the subject in November and the deputy leader of the Lib Dems, Jo Swinson, has also pledged her support for the campaign.

Shared Parental Leave will have a government review in 2018, and, following pressure from our open letter and 5,000 petition signers, the self-employed will now be included in that review.

Many of the comments we have received tell heart-breaking stories of mothers’ businesses failing and careers stalling while on maternity leave.

“My business has all but disappeared as childcare has been solely down to me six days a week since my daughter was born,” said one self-employed mother.

“If we had had Shared Parental Leave, we both would have been able to maintain our careers, my daughter and husband would have greatly benefitted from having more time together and we would have had a balanced life rather than one akin to the 1950s.”    

“I had to effectively close down my business as I wouldn’t be able to sustain it being the main carer,” said another self-employed female working in the arts.

“Had I been able to split it with my partner, we could have both kept our businesses going.”

If we make it possible for women to maintain self-employed careers whilst having kids, I am confident all areas of the music industry will better reflect the general makeup of the population, and our industry will be richer as a result.

We will be submitting research to the government review, and would love to hear from anyone working in the industry who has been affected.

Our petition is also live on https://platform.organise.org.uk/campaigns/shared-parental-pay-petition. So please sign and share.

Story By: Olga Fitzroy, Recording & Mix Engineer

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