I would say that they came about due to a genuine desire to help out with a problem that is fairly widespread and usually ignored - women who are not economically active who consider themselves to be unemployed / underemployed but are not "counted" in govt stats as they are not on unemployment benefits. & so don't get any assistance from that area. Women take a year out on mat leave and then want to go part time and get it refused and do something else and step away from their skills and experience and off the "ladder". Women take a couple of years out and feel that they are totally out of the loop and lose their confidence and struggle. Part time jobs are hard to come by at anything above "entry level" and employers are wary of people with anything out of the norm on their CV. Women who were doing fine before they started their family find they turn a couple of corners and are at a dead end. Things have changed I'm sure with the change in govt and funding and so on so I suspect their remit is much wider now but really their original aim was clear and they are, I'm sure, still heavily focussed on helping women.
Basically originally the point was, why should women who have been highly skilled successful etc have to take entry level jobs if they want to take more than 6 months/ a year off after having a baby, or drop their hours? Why should it be that someone who was very successful for 15 years get all that experience overlooked because of say 3 years out? And have to go and start at the bottom again... That sort of thing.
And interestingly it mainly came down to confidence, and the loss of it when people are out of the workplace.
As to the other part, WLU have a fairly high profile within political circles and do join conversations / apply pressure for things that will assist women, so stuff like shared parental leave, more flexible working for all are things that get raised by them and similar organisations, with the media, govt etc etc.
I can see why it could occur as a counter-productive org but equally there's no point not helping people because in an ideal world they wouldn't be in that position in the first place IYSWIM.
Actually, mulling it over, something else that bothers me is they're suggesting on the front page as an example that a 'retired HR professional' would be a good advisor. Now I am not knocking people who've retired or suggesting everyone who's stopped working immediately becomes an obsolete source of information, but surely a lot of retired people won't have much experience of what it's like to be a 20-something or 30-something in their career today?
I'm not convinced that someone in their 60s would have more perspective on what my career path might be like, just because they're also female. In lots of jobs it has just changed so much.
I have a wonderful mentor at the moment (who is very much not retired), and she is amazingly on the ball, very feminist and concerned about women's careers, and very familiar with lots of people my age and what's required of us. But she herself has said she doesn't know what it is like to be my age and trying to get into this career.
That's why I struggled with it as a concept. It's just won a grant from NESTA, who are all about innovation and I assume think it's great to keep women's skills in the workforce. And I think it will probably help women to cope better and find ways to balance their work and family.
It's just reinforcing the status quo: that it's hard for women to work and have a family because they have to juggle. Real innovation, in my view, would be ways to challenge existing working practices and structures so that they work with people's needs (and not just parents, anyone who wants more of a balance) rather than preserving an outdated yet revered system of work that most people have to struggle a bit to fit into.
This seems like a really great idea, until one considers that yet again, women are cast as bring primarily responsible for sorting out childcare and finding 'flexible' careers to fit around these responsibilities.
While this is a reality for many women and I don't dispute that they would appreciate a support network, isn't it counterproductive in the long run?
Surely this is just reinforcing the problem and efforts would be better spent finding ways for families (whole families, men too) to find a better balance for everyone? But maybe I'm being too idealistic...