Whatever else Donald Trump and Brexit may have in common, they both have a tendency to suck the oxygen out of the room. With both dominating news cycles, it can be easy to forget there are many other issues deserving attention.
A recent poll of 3000 senior HR professionals revealed that many businesses are more concerned by difficulties surrounding retaining and developing staff in the next six months than they are about potential impacts of Brexit. And yet, for many of these businesses, this could be much less of an issue if they made one change to their worldview, and began encouraging women back to work after maternity leave.
In their 2016 survey of working mums, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that 75% had experienced bias because they had taken maternity leave, which supported earlier EHRC research suggesting women returning to work after having children are more likely to face discrimination than they were ten years ago. This discrimination can take many forms, including the notion that a woman returning from a maternity break is not fully committed to work and/or can’t keep up with workloads, things not called into question if someone has non-child related commitments outside of work.
PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) research suggests close to half a million female professionals—including accountants, directors, doctors, engineers, lawyers, researchers and scientists—are currently on a career break, and aiming to return to the workforce in the future. However, three in five professional women returning to work after a period away come up against recruitment biases against CV gaps and a lack of flexible or part-time opportunities, and so find themselves in lower-skilled or lower-paid roles, earning up to a third less than their former salaries. The multiplier effect from reduced earnings and spending power is thought to result in a £1.7 billion loss to the UK economy.
Encouraging women back to work after maternity leave benefits not only those women, but the wider economy, and those companies keen to attract and retain talent.
How can it be done? Here are a few suggestions:
All employees need to be managed well, and this includes offering appropriate working conditions and making clear there is a commitment to improving the work/life balance for the workforce.
Many companies think this is about allowing more time off. But just bumping up someone’s leave is rarely enough. Employers wanting to retain talent, especially if that talent is a working parent, need to be open to fresh approaches, which includes offering advice and support.
Many women returning to work find that in order to combine work with ongoing caring commitments, flexible working arrangements—job-sharing, staggered hours, etc—are needed.
According to a PwC report, opportunities are constrained by the lack of flexible or part-time roles available for higher-skilled jobs. And yet over 50% women said that if flexible work arrangements were available to them, they would be happy to work more hours.
A 2015 survey by Timewise shows that only 6% of advertised roles with a salary of over £20,000 are available on a flexible basis. The figure is even lower, at just 2%, for jobs with a salary of over £100,000,
When working parents are in need of advice or motivation, they instinctively look to colleagues who are also working parents. By introducing a buddy scheme in the workplace offering support for parents by parents, companies can foster peer to peer learning.
If your company does not already have a buddy scheme, consider setting one up.
There are times when parenthood becomes tough, and even the most together can feel overwhelmed. Midfulness can help. According to Laura Callisen from Working Mothers, becoming more mindful improves the ability to concentrate, it also helps approach things with more acceptance and objectivity, which helps to reduce stress levels. It is something parents can practice a few minutes each day at home, during their commute, and at work.
And employers can facilitate training sessions to help staff use this technique, and companies can provide a relaxing space for employees to practice this technique for 20 minutes each day.
And incredibly easy way to make workloads easier to deal with (for every employee, not just working parents) is to label your communications to reflect the urgency: mark relevant emails as FYI Only, Not Urgent; For Monday; Urgent!; etc. This simple technique helps everyone prioritise and manage assignments.
Good Employer Charter
For companies based in London, one way to highlight an organisation’s support for their employees is to apply to be part of the Good Employer Charter, which is available in most boroughs. A significant part of this involves diversity, equality and flexible work arrangements. The Mayor of London has invited all employers to sign up to the Healthy Workplace Charter, which provides businesses with a range of tools to support their staff’s health and wellbeing.
These measures make sense for many reasons and can help improve the performance and working experience of all staff, but for companies concerned about retaining talent, the dividends can be great. Encouraging women back to work after maternity leave and offering flexible working options and support services means access to a wealth of experience, and can be a cost-effective solution compared to the costs of recruiting new staff, the necessary training and the time it takes fresh staff to get up to speed. By helping parents return to work companies can both attract and retain experienced, talented workers, and see a direct impact on their bottom lines.
Alexander Mann Solutions Survey (http://smallbusiness.co.uk/firms-retaining-staff-impact-brexit-2537530/)
working parents say they’ve experienced burnout (http://www.prnewswire.com/news releases/new-study-of-modern-families-and-managers-working-parent-burnout-costing-employers-300155840.html)
working hours have on relationships with their children (www.bitc.org.uk)
support staff health and wellbeing (https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/health/healthy-workplace-charter)