Anno 2022, debates on enhancing, securing, and promoting women’s future of work still largely revolve around society’s and, particularly, employers’ ability to acknowledge and account for the ways in which the (invisible) dynamics of women’s reproductive labour continue to impede their access to, participation in, and (financial) appreciation on the labour market. Indeed, despite significant progress, data underscores that women’s care responsibilities continue to limit their career development. In 2021, 12% of all the reports received by the Belgian Institute for the equality of women and men (BIEWM)  were related to discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. In the study ‘Pregnant at Work’ conducted in 2017, 75% of the female employees in the study reported having faced at least one form of discrimination or unfavourable, unequal, or unpleasant treatment. One in three thought that applying for a job is pointless when they are pregnant, and about six percent reported being dismissed because of their pregnancy, or quit themselves because they were pestered .
Moreover, in 2018 more than double the number of women with young children adjusted their working regime (foremost in the form of working fewer hours) compared to men (46,1% versus 21,6%) . Additionally, it is still mostly women who take parental leave and spend time caring for children and family members. Numbers from the Belgian National Employment Office show that, in 2019, 46 477 women took parental leave with allowances compared to 22 211 men (67,7% versus 32,3%) . This means that more than twice the number of women than men use their right to parental leave to reconcile work and family life. Clearly, despite some significant progress, discrimination and unequal treatment at work because of pregnancy, maternity and the desire to have children remains a major social issue for working women in Belgium.
In 2019, the BIEWM therefore launched the Parents@Work project which aimed to contribute to the enhancement of the work-life balance of pregnant employees and parent workers. The project was financed under the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020) of the European Union, and was carried out by four European Equality Bodies: the Institute for the equality of women and men (Belgium), the Commission for Protection against Discrimination (Bulgaria), the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner (Estonia), and the Commission for Equality in Labour and Employment (Portugal).
The project aimed to improve the protection of and combat discrimination against pregnant workers, mothers, as well as fathers in the workplace. For, while it manifests itself in different ways, men also feel the societal unease when it comes to combining parenthood with a (fulltime) job. In a Study on the experiences of employees with paternity leave in Belgium, 44.6% of men reported not taking paternity leave or not taking all their legally offered days, because of their employer. 10.8% of the male respondents encountered problems or disadvantages in the workplace because of taking paternity leave. By explicitly reaching out to male employers to embrace their role as caregivers, care responsibilities at home can be more equally divided amongst partners.
To achieve this, the Parents@Work project focused on furthering and supporting companies’ commitment to gender equality and on helping them address obstacles they face regarding the implementation of measures and policies on gender equality. Reaching and engaging employers in the quest for a good work-life balance and beneficial pregnancy or maternity practices is a win-win situation. It makes employers more attractive to (potential) employees, increases compliance with the law (which benefits employees), and decreases the risk employers face of losing good, trained, and motivated female workers. More and more employers and companies recognise the benefits of implementing care-friendly policies – especially during times of labour market shortages where companies are struggling to attract, recruit and retain (female) talent .
Yet, employers and workplaces lack good practices and examples to support and promote these policies. The project therefore invested in informing and providing employers with good practices which describe a variety of inspiring measures, from actions around flexible working, leave and remuneration, disconnecting and family-supporting services to information and communication. These examples cover a wide range of companies, from various sectors such as the chemical industry, the transport sector and administrative and support services, and from small companies with fewer than 10 employees to large multi-nationals. These files contain practical information on what the action involves and how it was implemented. They also refer to success factors, as well as challenges. Finally, a few results from the action are shared. Additionally, checklists were developed which inform employers about their legal obligations, as well as provide them with ‘tips & tricks’ to make their company more family-friendly.
Through the project, the BIEWM was able to take further steps to engage employers in the field of gender equality not only by providing employers with a toolkit, but also by relaunching BIEWM’s network for Good Practices that meets yearly on a regular basis (ideally every six months). The format of these sessions, in which employers themselves present their good practice, encourages peer-to-peer learning which is often the most effective way to inspire employers, especially given that statistics or anecdotal evidence about the economic benefits from another company can be a strong and effective motivator for other companies to implement good practices. These good practices are equally available online .
 The IEWM was created in December 2002 as the autonomous federal public institution responsible for guaranteeing and promoting gender equality and to combat any form of gender-based discrimination and inequality by developing and implementing a fitting legal framework, structures, strategies, tools and actions.
 IEWM (2017). Zwanger op het werk. De ervaringen van werkneemsters in België.
 Statbel (2018), Labour Force Survey, ad-hoc module 2018 “Reconciliation between work and family life”.
 IEWM (2020), Femmes et hommes en Belgique, 3rd ed. Chapitre 6 : Conciliation vie professionnelle & vie familiale.
 A study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission from 2016, Pregnancy and Maternity-Related Discrimination and Disadvantages, found that the majority of employers (84%) in the United Kingdom recognise that it is in their interest to support pregnant workers and workers on maternity leave. See also McKinsey & Company (2022), Women in the Workplace 2022: The State of Women in Corporate America.
 Everything that was produced under the Parents@Work project is available in Dutch, English, French, and German.
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