3 Sue Bennett on the lack of support for working mothers and attempts to set up a nursery at OUP
The way it was presented to you is if you could come back and do what was called ‘a little job’, a little job was three days a week – so you could step back from where you, from the real job that you were doing. Or you could come back and do a real job, which was five days a week.
There was absolutely no concept that you might continue in a real job on four days a week. So it was either the little job at three days a week or you go back to your real job and five days a week, and there was no quarter given. You know, you had to carry on working, absolutely no question you carried on, you worked full time.
I mean I can remember, back then, you know ’89, ’90, that the number of women who worked full time in the workforce, it was about 8%. Tiny numbers compared to now. Because you’ve got no, got no infrastructure, you’ve got nothing to support you. There was very little, you know you’ve got child minders and so on, but there wasn’t, wasn’t much to help. There was no workplace nurseries, there was nothing. There was very little to support you.
So you know, I came back to, I’d worked so hard to get my middle management job, I came back to work full time.
Was there ever any talk within the company about helping women by, say, having a crèche or a nursery attached to the business?
Well it’s interesting, because when I, the job I came back into when I came back off my maternity leave was, I was project manager on the refurb of the Printing Division, because the Printing Division closed, and so there was a big project management job to do with the refurb, and so now, the building that you see now is the building that I was partly responsible, I was responsible for.
And we did discuss, in the plans, so we’re talking 1991, we did discuss whether we might have a workplace nursery. It was scotched. But it was discussed. It was scotched because, you know, we could put something more productive in there, more useful to the business. But it was at least an agenda item.
And what did you feel about the prospect of having a workplace nursery?
Oh, it was brilliant! Oh it was brilliant, absolutely brilliant to be able to support people in that way. And of course that’s what a lot of organisations are doing. You know, something on site, so if anything, you need to pop over, or someone’s ill, you’ve not got to drop somebody an hour from your work and then you’ve got to get to meet … you know and all that, it makes perfect business sense. I was encouraged that it actually even got to the table.
How was it scotched? By whom?
Oh, by the chaps. I mean I can remember being in a meeting, and it was a regular meeting of all the people involved in this refurbishment job. And 12 people in the room and I was the only woman. So, what was ever going to happen to it?
I made the case, you know, I said this was very worthwhile, this would be very helpful to other women, increasing numbers, looked at the demographics, you know, made the business case.
And it was sort of, I think they were a bit bemused really. Why is this our problem? Um, isn’t this the problem of the women who want to work? Aren’t their mums going to help them? You know, it was two colliding ideas, just sort of missing each other.
I think it was a step too far, a step too far. But, you know, they’ve got it now. So, you know it’s moved – 25 years later.