The Mummy Problem

David Farmer our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 5/23/2016 11:52 AM
As a manager of a recruitment business, I am often called into meetings with organisations to discuss the challenge of attracting a diverse workforce. The expectation of us as an agency being to ensure we are doing as much as we can to create a diverse shortlist.

What strikes me about this is that as a supplier, we will be rewarded for sourcing candidates for these roles, so it is firmly in our interest to make sure we send the best candidate, no matter what sex, nationality or age. Also, positive discrimination (Affirmative action in the USA) is not legally acceptable in the UK, and therefore asking agencies to present diverse shortlists will potentially lead to more discrimination, rather than less.
Equally, I think that looking at the supply of candidates to solve the diversity problem is potentially looking in the wrong direction, and instead companies need to look at some of the things that they do, that prevent them from attracting a diverse pool of candidates.

There is a common trend in the meetings I attend. We work in a technical market where entry is dominated by men and where many clients struggle to attract women into management and senior management roles, and this is where I think that organisations are causing their own issues – namely the “Mummy problem”.

First and foremost, let me clear up any potential for accusations of sexist generalisations – the problem should be considered a “parent problem” rather than a “mummy problem”, but the challenge does seem to disproportionately impact the female workforce more than their male counterparts, so please forgive my use of this phrase.

The parent trap

The following example highlights exactly what I mean:

Chatting to a friend recently, she asked me for some advice. She was in the advanced stages of an interview process and liked the company. She has one child and was thinking of a second in the future. She had asked the organisation in question to send through their benefits package and had been sent it, but it didn’t include the parental leave policy. Her concern was that if she went back to the company to ask for this then she would immediately damage her candidacy, so she wanted to see if there was a way she could find out what their policy was without asking.

My advice was simple – ask them for it. If they’re not willing to share it with you or it does damage your chances of securing the role, then you don’t want to work for them anyway.

In this situation, the company in question sent it through to her, and all ended well with a job offer and a new role, but that’s not the issue at hand – the problem is her perception in the first place.

How many other female candidates withdraw from processes because they haven’t wanted to ask for a maternity policy? The lack of information available on these policies without asking directly for it seems very poor.

Had my friend not had the confidence to ask, the company would have missed out on someone they clearly wanted to hire based on her misconception.

Transparency is key

As far as I can see, the issue isn’t exclusively with externally advertising the policies. In researching this piece, I spoke to a client within a FTSE 50 company. She shared with me that she had been looking to leave that business to secure a role with better maternity benefits as the published policy suggested that she would only be entitled to statutory maternity pay and she was worried that if she asked anyone internally if this was the case, she would then be looked at differently.

It was only when she had found a potential role and approached a friend in their HR team about a question on notice period that she had an off-the-record conversation about the fact she was looking and was made aware of the fact that she was actually on an enhanced maternity package. She stayed in the business.

So we find ourselves in a situation where (some) female candidates don’t want to ask the question, and female employees don’t either. Either way, this should serve as a wakeup call for many organisations that they clearly must do more to communicate parental leave policies.

In my eyes, if these two examples are indicative of the norm, then the solution for companies is simple – it all comes down to communication…

Knowledge is power

Detail your parental leave policy in your benefits package. Almost all the packages we see from organisations have a thorough breakdown of all potential benefits, however barely any has any detail regarding parental leave. Companies, of course, want to hire people who will spend many years in the business, but in my eyes, they’re simply not doing enough to show what that would involve.

As a new father, I know just how important these conversations of maternity and paternity leave are when considering children, so companies need to consider this when selling roles to potential hires.

One thing I have reflected on when writing this – is there a reason for companies to be secretive on parental leave policy? Is there a fear of other organisations learning these benefits? Is the fear that employees will feel hard done by at a junior level when their policy is not enhanced? I haven’t been able to pinpoint the answer, and whilst I have asked a number of people about this, and can’t find a conclusive theme, I would appreciate people’s thoughts.

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