An MP that ‘gets’ mothers? Is that possible? Welcome Jo Swinson

As part of free The Confident Mother online conference, earlier this week I interviewed MP Jo Swinson, Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs.  Interestingly Jo is also Minister for Women and Equalities. Jo is the Minister responsible for the new Shared Parental Leave rules which were announced on 1 December 2014 and comes into effect for babies due on or after 5 April 2015.

I had previously met Jo a few weeks ago when she came to NCT headquarters in Acton to meet with a group of parents to answer questions about the newly announced changes. Before I met Jo, I admit I was sceptical about an MP coming to talk to us about Shared Parental Leave. What does an MP know about the pressures of being a working parent? What does an MP understand about juggling the demands of work and family? What does an MP appreciate about the struggles of childcare?  However I was SERIOUSLY impressed. And I’m a hard person to impress. My husband will tell you that! At the time, Jo recorded a short video for NCT and you can watch that here. Fellow NCT member blogs about that day here.

So what impressed me? Well Jo is a really practical down-to-earth working mum who really DOES get what it’s like trying to balance work and family life. Jo proudly claimed in her introduction that she’d been a feminist all her life. YES! A woman and a mother that feels and thinks like I do. The new Shared Parental Leave goes a long way to addressing the problems and challenges that parents faced with Additional Paternal Leave which was introduced two years ago. If you want the facts and detail on Shared Parental Leave, you can download my worksheet.

I already knew I wanted to invite Jo to be a guest speaker at The Confident Mother but held off until after the NCT Q&A session. I have selected all my speakers very carefully and emphasised to them all that The Confident Mother is not a pitchfest.  First and foremost, every speaker has to offer valuable content – content that will contribute to my key message, Good Enough Is Good Enough. The opportunity to check out Jo in person was too good to miss. I didn’t want a politician full of big girl’s blouse bluster and flurry. So I was delighted to meet her and find her so approachable and understanding. I was impressed that she gives straight answers. I was impressed with her honesty and openness. I was impressed with her warmth.  It’s a shame she’s not my local MP.

When I first talked to Jo and her team about her discussing Shared Parental Leave as part of The Confident Mother, Jo responded very quickly and we booked the date for Monday 26 January. The interview with Jo was to be the second half of the session.  The first half was spent with Philippa Williams at Capability Jane discussing flexible working. How appropriate then that Jo was also the minister who oversaw the changes in June 2014 though she was on maternity leave for the first six months of 2014. This interview in the Independent demonstrates Jo’s understanding of the issues. For more detail on the changes to Shared Parental Leave, download my flexible working worksheet here.

And again on Monday, I was impressed with how down-to-earth and approachable Jo is. I had to laugh when I asked her to introduce herself, and she reeled off her various political responsibilities, and I gently nudged her.  “But you’ve forgotten the most important job of all, you’re a Mum”.

Jo’s husband is also an MP so no doubt that helped to keep her in touch with work during her 6 months maternity leave, but Jo was also out on the road after just 7 weeks dealing with various public speaking opportunties.  It was no surprise to learn that Jo’s pre-MP background is in Marketing.  It was great hearing Jo talk about her own real-life challenges as a working mum – when her little boy is sick, yes she and her husband compare diaries and figure out who can stay home and when.  She spoke highly of the House of Commons nursery. I didn’t realise they had one. Reading their website I noticed that parents can make prior arrangements for their children to stay longer to accommodate late sittings. Wouldn’t that be nice in the ‘outside’ world. She answered all our questions smoothly and fluently. She is very knowledgeable. We talked about the differences in Scandinavian countries and she mentioned that the Lib Dems are looking at a “use it or lose it” policy to encourage (?) more Dads to take up their paternity leave. What do you think? Would that work? Right now only 1% of men take up Additional Paternity Leave and Jo is hoping that uptake will increase to between 2 and 8%. Ironically of course, in her travels and meetings with businesses and Dads, more than once men have expressed the concern “yes but how will it affect my career?” Hey guys – welcome to the real world. Welcome to the mother’s world.

It was brilliant to talk to Jo as a mother, not just as an MP. As mothers, we all share the same concerns, we face the same challenges, we enjoy the same delights when we become parents.

(By the way, I should just point out that the changes apply to parents adopting, and to same sex couples too.)

What about you? Will you be able to take advantage of the new Shared Parental Leave? Or are you envious that it was not available when your children were born? Do share your thoughts in the comments.


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