Page last updated at 14:15 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 15:15 UK

Focus on women's work needs urged

Cristina Odone
The report's author, Cristina Odone, is a writer and broadcaster

More family-friendly employment policies are needed, as many women do not necessarily want to work full-time, a report has concluded.

A survey for the Centre for Policy Studies suggested a third of mothers would not work if they had the choice.

Author Cristina Odone said many "real women" rejected work-centred culture and "realised themselves" as mothers.

But the minister for women, Harriet Harman, said that working "doesn't mean that you're not a real woman".

Labour's deputy leader insisted: "Many women work because of their family, not despite them."

The YouGov poll for the centre for Policy Studies interviewed 4,690 men and women and found just 12% of the mothers wanted to work full-time.

It (the establishment) regards women who value the family more than a career as little more than parasites
Cristina Odone

Ms Odone said the "overwhelming majority of women do not want to commit full-time to a job".

She calls this majority "real women" who want to lead a "full life".

Said Ms Odone: "Instead of finding satisfaction in full-time work, most women realise themselves in their other roles as carers, partners, community members and above all mothers."

Ms Odone's report, What Women Want and How They Can Get It, calls for family-friendly policies, rather than those promoting women's rights in the workplace.

The writer and broadcaster, who formerly edited The Catholic Herald, said notions of women's progress over the past decade have been measured by the "wrong" things, such as more women in top jobs, a shrinking earnings gap and better state-funded childcare.

Her report - for the right-leaning Centre for Policy Studies think tank - argues that in addition to a policy shift towards creating more part-time opportunities for women, there also needs to be a cultural shift where women are valued "not just for what they produce at the end of a working day".

Reading the document, I do wonder whether this is polemic dressed up as research
BBC's home editor Mark Easton

'Different priorities'

The poll found only 1% of mothers and 2% of fathers (with children under five) thought the mother in a family, where the father worked and there were small children, should work full-time.

While the report both attacks and praises Labour's policies, Ms Odone said it was not about party politics.

"The government has been getting more women into full-time work and getting more work out of those women," she told the BBC.

"What women actually want is to choose their own childcare providers and more opportunity to work part-time."

She said women who put home and community before work "were seen as subversive by the government, by the elite who have a very different lifestyle and have different priorities".

Labour had portrayed itself as the party which listened to women, said Ms Odone, but "they have only been listening to a few".

But Ms Harman rejected much of her analysis.

She said: "The reality is that many mothers want to work because it gives extra income to the household, but also feel they've got a contribution to the world of work, as well as in the home.

"To go out to work doesn't mean that you're not a real woman, and it doesn't mean that you're work-centred at the expense of your family", she said.

Ms Harman insisted the government had helped family life.

"We've more than doubled maternity pay and leave, introduced tax credits, given rights and respect to part-time workers so they're not regarded as second class citizens, introduced flexible working rights and more than doubled provision of good quality affordable childcare.

"We want to do more to help women, whatever choice they make", she added.

'Change childcare'

Ms Odone, a mother of three, said she used to believe that "success in life is measured by the work you do", and that she was not having a "pop" at working mothers in the report.

Her recommendations include:

  • Rather than "pumping billions into an unpopular childcare system", the government should enable families to choose
  • Weekly national insurance credits for carers of children and the disabled should be extended to include more people
  • Reform the tax and benefit system to stop penalising stay at home mothers
  • Make it easier for businesses to employ part-time workers

Justine Roberts, co-founder of online forum Mumsnet, said women wanted to work but not so hard that it made it impossible to have a family life.

She said her group welcomed any measures that encouraged firms to employ people more flexibly or helped with the "extortionate" cost of childcare.

She added that two-thirds of mothers would ideally choose part-time work, citing a recent Mumsnet survey commissioned with the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Mandy Garner, from recruitment website, said what women desired most was flexible working.

"They want to start work a bit later so they can take the children to school or leave later to attend an event," she said.

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