Kelly: We will remove barriers for working mums

The government has today unveiled new measures to help mothers returning to work, ensuring they get better pay and equal conditions.

The initiative – unveiled by communities secretary Ruth Kelly, who built her career while raising four children – was formed in response to recommendations from a report by the women and work commission in February.

Ms Kelly met with TUC leaders at the annual women’s conference in Brighton last night, and announced the government would implement nearly all the 40 recommendations published in the Shaping a Fairer Future report.

All jobs in her department would now be made available on a flexible or part time basis, Ms Kelly said, adding: “Today’s parents find it difficult to balance professional and family commitments – the role of government should be to help them make the decisions that suit them and their families.

“The proposals we are setting out today aim to establish a change in culture from the playground to the boardroom. Just because a woman decides to trade down her hours, doesn’t mean she should trade down her status.”

“My message to business is clear,” Ms Kelly added.

“This is not about political correctness, this is about improving your profit margins.”

The initiative, which Ms Kelly claimed could boost the UK economy by as much as £23 billion per year, will see unions working with “equality representatives” to increase flexible working rights and resolve discrimination cases.

It will also launch an “exemplar employer” scheme to encourage businesses to provide flexible working hours for mothers returning to work, as well as job-share opportunities and good quality part-time work.

As many as 80 companies and organisations, including Accenture, BAE Systems, BT, BP and Centrica, have already signed up, Ms Kelly said, pledging to create more high-skilled jobs for career women with families.

Companies specialising in flexible working will be offered a £500,000 incentive, and local education authorities are required to rewrite careers literature to ensure that advice that is “free from gender stereotyping”.

Chair of the women and work commission, Baroness Prosser, said: “If government, trade unions and business continue to work together, I believe that we can make a real difference to the lives of millions of working women in this country.”

The Liberal Democrats have welcomed the plans, with women and equality spokeswoman Lorely Burt arguing it was essential “if we are to address the persistent problems affecting women at work”.

Although Ms Burt acknowledged the financial incentives would help, she insisted: “More needs to be done to provide quality and senior part-time posts for women.”

“The government must to do more to make it attractive for smaller businesses to employ people part-time, and promoting time account schemes which allow for more flexible working,” Ms Burt added.