Take a moment to consider whether, in your workplace, you think it is possible for a new mum to progress her career as quickly as a new father?
I was recently shocked to discover that four in ten managers admitted they avoid employing women of childbearing age.
In a survey for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, 44% of employers also said they believe women should work for an organisation for at least one year before deciding to have children. A similar number felt those who have had more than one pregnancy while in the same job can be a ‘burden’ to their team.
As a woman who started her own business shortly after the birth of my daughter, it comes as no surprise to hear the UK lags behind when it comes to equality and opportunity for working mums.
With nearly one in five being forced to switch jobs because a flexible working request has been refused, it’s apparent that some attitudes are decades behind the times - not to mention the law - and this outdated view is allowing thousands of brilliant people to slip through the recruitment net.
Fear of change and a reluctance to offer flexible working is holding business back, and it’s time to bring this to an end.
The fact of the matter is that the UK’s flexible working laws changed more than five years ago so that every employee with over six months service - parent or not - has the right to ask for working hours and patterns that suit their lifestyle, regardless of their current contract.
Of course, employers don’t have to grant people’s wishes, but they do have a legal obligation to give requests ‘reasonable’ consideration provided they don’t generate an extra cost, affect quality and performance, or damage the business due to a reduction in productivity.
Simply put, priorities change for people when they have children and when they don’t. To get the best out of anybody you need to understand their motivations and work to support them.
For businesses with pregnant employees, there is a choice to make between losing valuable expertise and experience or embarking on a journey to develop independent-minded staff that are committed to your cause.
Many companies are switched on to the benefits of maintaining a diverse workforce. They are willing to make the leap from hours worked to impact made being the true measure of success.
Flexible approaches include everything from part-time, annualised, compressed and staggered hours, to job sharing and working from home.
By offering the opportunity to create a better work-life balance, companies can hold on to valuable staff, reduce the level of absenteeism, increase commitment and productivity and become a more desirable employer; giving you an even wider talent pool to choose from.
I believe we all have a responsibility to help women continue to excel in work, regardless of the way their working hours are scheduled. Unfortunately, many employees still believe taking advantage of flexible working will have a negative impact on their career and, until this becomes the norm, they will shy away from it to protect future progression.
With skills shortages and an economy in danger of stalling, now really is the time we should be opening our eyes to the talent that is in front of us. While mothers returning to work may not be the recruitment solution you had in mind, they can bring with them so many benefits at the only extra cost of being a little bit flexible.
Yes, it may appear challenging to implement at first, but with trust, clear communication and accountability, and a good IT infrastructure, you will reap the rewards of better company culture and an engaged and happy workforce.
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