Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Those dinosaurs need retraining

19 comments
Alasdair Thompson. Photo / Richard Robinson
Alasdair Thompson. Photo / Richard Robinson

I'm sure it was a slip of the tongue. When Paul McKay, the spokesman for Business New Zealand, was making a submission on behalf of the organisation against Sue Moroney's extended paid parental leave bill, he claimed that women needed retraining when they re-entered the workforce after taking maternity leave.

This "human capital depreciation", as he so charmingly put it, was yet another cost that business would have to bear, on top of the costs associated with parental leave. What a stupid thing to say.

Sue Moroney came back with a beauty of a rejoinder. People don't always need retraining on their return to work, she said. Look at Stephen Donald. He kicked the winning goal in the Rugby World Cup - and he'd been away whitebaiting. Sue 1, Paul 0.

The reason so many people (not just women) took umbrage at the comments was that they reinforced the perception that business advocates are a bunch of hoary old misogynists.

The statement harked back to the Alasdair Thompson comments about women being more prone to taking sick leave and that some women suffered terribly once a month and that may be a reason they were paid 12 per cent less than men. That story ran for days.

A Television New Zealand reporter searched the company's HR records and found that in its organisation, at least, men took more sick leave than women; others took to social media to express their contempt for the man; and ultimately the remarks cost Thompson his job.

As an aside, a young friend of mine was green with pain when I visited her in her office one day. She was having a terrible period and I told her she should be home in bed. "I can't!" she moaned through gritted teeth. "I keep thinking about Alasdair bloody Thompson." So she soldiered on.

If Paul McKay had said "people" needed retraining on returning to the workforce, there wouldn't have been such a fuss, but because business advocates have previously been tarred with the misogynist brush, offence will be taken where perhaps none was meant.

I have a certain sympathy for employers over paid parental leave, especially small to medium enterprise employers.

Many of them would love to take a year off to spend with their babies, but they simply cannot afford to. There are arguments to be made against the bill - but a claim that "women need retraining" isn't one of them.

You don't lose all the skills that made you employable in the first place in six months - even a year - and if you're working in an industry that changes rapidly, well, all staff would need constant retraining, so what's wrong with retraining someone who is returning to work?

A talkback caller, who said he was an employer, rang on the subject and said we women were crazy, insane even, for taking offence. We were all bloody irrational man-hating feminists who should get on our broomsticks.

It was like listening to a dinosaur roaring with insults straight from the 70s and reinforces that some old men do think women are flaky hormonal idiots who probably shouldn't be in the workforce anyway.

Maybe Business NZ could think about bringing on board businesswomen who could offer them a little perspective. Of the 18 people on the Business NZ Council, it seems only one is a woman. I'm sure a couple more would be useful additions to the council - once we've trained them up, of course.

- Herald on Sunday

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