Limerick Chamber Staff: Back; Maura McMahon & Mary Egan Front; Anne Morris, Caroline Kelleher & Caoimhe Moloney
Return to Work scheme among proposals outlined by policy director Caroline Kelleher
Encouraging more women back to the workplace can help address the growing need for skills and talent in the Irish economy, Limerick Chamber in its submission to the National Women’s Strategy has stated.
Outlining a number of key proposals to promote the advancement of women across all sectors of Irish society, Limerick Chamber Director of Policy Caroline Kelleher stated in the submission that two issues of “immense importance” from a business perspective are advancing socio-economic equality for women and advancing women in leadership.
Noting that only 69% of women compared to 86% of men between 25 and 64 years are in employment, Ms Kelleher states that the inability to retain women in the workplace is posing a significant economic cost on Irish society and has implications at an enterprise and national level.
The Chamber policy director revealed that in the third quarter of last year alone there were 110,000 women with a third level qualification outside the labour force. For women aged between 25 and 44years, one quarter of them are “inactive” in the workforce, she added.
Outlining proposals largely aimed at encouraging women back to the workforce, she suggested that investment in child care provision and addressing the gender pay gap would assist in addressing some of the issues that are impacting on women leaving and not returning to the workplace.
Consideration should be given, she states, to establishing a ‘Return to Work’ programme for people at senior roles. “By tapping into the large cohort of women who are currently outside the labour force, we have the potential to address the significant skills shortage that is imminent in the marketplace,” she continues. “For example, a number of international companies offer ‘returnships’, which are generally short term paid employment contracts targeted at returning professionals with the prospect of a full-time position on completion. “
The submission also states that promoting female entrepreneurship is an important aspect of advancing the Socio-Economic Equality of Women and the need to stimulate female entrepreneurship in Ireland has been recognised in numerous government reports.
The 2014 study ‘Entrepreneurship in Ireland: Strengthening the Start-up Community’ called for specific measures to support female entrepreneurship. However, two of them – enabling women to transfer a portion of their maternity leave and benefits to the father of the child and making the PRSI qualifying weeks for maternity leave the same for female entrepreneurs as for female employees – have not seen enough action, Ms Kelleher states.
While the introduction of the paternity leave policy in Ireland has made some progress in recognising the needs for the other parent, it does not go far enough, she states. “The ability to split maternity leave had been mooted by the Government previously but there has been little action in this regard. Consideration should be given to transferring some of the time allowed under maternity leave to paternity leave thereby allowing parents to share entitlements as is the case in other jurisdictions such as Canada and the UK.
With regard to the cost of childcare, which has been consistently identified as a barrier to retaining women in employment, the submission recommends that there is a need for additional investment and funding for these schemes to have tangible benefits.
Addressing the 14% Gender Pay Gap would also promote many of those outside the labour force to return, the Policy Director continued. More detailed data should promote action on gender inequalities and would also allow for progress in achieving parity to be more accurately assessed.
Gender balance at senior levels of an organisation would also encourage better leadership, governance, innovation and, overall, would improve board and company performance. “Gender quotas should be supported until parity begins to appear.”