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The glass ceiling

Helping women? No you’re not Alice

Terribly sorry, says Claire Foges in The Times, but I’m not going to write much today. I have to knock off early – “the baby needs her tea at four and my son’s got his first dentist appointment at five”. Is that reasonable? Of course not. And nor was the award of £185,000 by an employment tribunal to former estate agent Alice Thompson, who wanted to permanently cut short her working hours so she could collect her daughter from nursery. Now employers know they must grant flexible working hours, said Thompson, “because the penalties are harsh” if they don’t. Rules, penalties, threats … it’s enough to make you never want to hire a woman again!

Thompson feels she is “a glass-ceiling breaker”, opening doors for her daughter. In fact, she is helping to slam them in her face. Women aged between 25 and 40 are already seen as a risky prospect – why make them a “don’t-touch-with-a-bargepole one”? It is, of course, right that we have maternity laws, to protect women from bosses who would give them the boot at the first hint of a “blue line on the pregnancy test”. But is it not better for flexible working after maternity to be the choice of enlightened employers who don’t want to lose valuable female talent? Can we really ask for equality when recruiting but inequality once we’re working?