Why Gendering Change?


— Research by Mckinsey 2017

Motherhood is the main cause of the gender pay gap. Hundreds of thousands of women (and some men) are driven out of the workplace by their caring responsibilities. Thousands more find that they are demoted, or their career stagnates. We are fed a rhetoric that this is due to the choices women make, but this isn’t about a choice, this is about workplaces that don’t work for pregnant women and parents.  

Research by Save The Children has revealed that there are 890,000 stay at home mums who want to work but can’t due to childcare costs. Additionally, the Government’s own research has shown that 54,000 women a year are pushed out of their job for getting pregnant, or taking maternity leave, and 77% of working mums have encountered discrimination in the workplace. This type of discrimination costs UK business £280 million a year, and that rather hefty price tag doesn’t include payouts from tribunals or settlement agreements. Ultimately, it makes absolute business sense to ensure your workplace works for any type of employee so you can be sure you are attracting, retaining and promoting the best person for the job. Unfortunately, most employers seem to be inadequate when it comes to considering how their workplaces are working for parents, particularly mothers. With Brexit on the horizon the battle to recruit skilled people to your workforce isn’t going anywhere, and it’s savvy employers who will now focus their attention on the 40% of the UK adult population who are mothers, a group that has historically been ignored.

For the last 4 years I have been protecting and supporting working mothers. Mothers who have encountered discrimination from the point they announce their pregnancy, such as being sacked, made redundant, demoted, bullied or harassed; to women who have faced discrimination in the recruitment process for simply being of childbearing age. I have organised festivals for mothers who are struggling to find work that works for them, an event which women flock to in their droves, desperate to find employers that will value their skills and allow them to be both mother and career woman. In 2018 I worked with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Andy Burnham on a project to try and eliminate pregnancy and maternity discrimination in Greater Manchester. The project attracted 80 companies from the region to sign a pledge to demonstrate their commitment to change. Through this work, it has become increasingly clear to me that companies need support to create the necessary culture changes, and that for those keen to do better, many are focussing on the wrong areas.

There are 4 key areas that need to be tackled if you want to ensure your company can attract, retain and promote the best talent:

Implicit bias

Most of us don’t want to believe that we are biased towards certain types of people, or that we see people as less capable simply because of their gender, race, disability or parental status, but we do. We all do. Only by being aware of this bias and finding methods to counter it will we have a truly diverse workforce.

Research conducted in the US asked recruiters to compare the CVs of people with very similar skills and experience. The only real difference was parental status. The research found that mothers were seen as less competent, less committed and deserving of lower salaries than other types employees. In fact, on average, they were offered a starting salary of $10,000 less than other types of employees.

When it comes to maternal employment, the majority of people still think that mothers should stay at home or work part-time, particularly when there is a child under school age.

Only 7% of British Social Attitudes survey interviewees felt mothers of under-5s should have full-time jobs. Part-time work was judged acceptable by 38% - but one in three felt those with under-5s should be stay-at-home mums.

Then there is the research which shows that 44% of employers avoid hiring a woman of childbearing age (Workable 2019) and One in five (22 per cent) of HR professionals admit that a woman being pregnant, or a mother, affects her promotion chances. The You Gov Survey of more than 800 UK HR professionals involved in employment decisions also discovered that more than one in ten (12 per cent) said women were taken less seriously in their organisation when they returned from maternity leave. It is no coincidence that 77% of mothers say they have encountered discriminatory treatment in the workplace. A survey of 1200 senior employers revealed that a third believe women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are “generally less interested in career progression” when compared to other employees in their company.

In my time working with mothers, I have lost count of the number of women who have said to me that from the moment they announced their pregnancy everything changed. They were viewed differently in the workplace, and despite being as dedicated as they were previously, suddenly their performance would be rated as substandard.

Understanding your legal obligations

Managing pregnancy and maternity in a business can feel pretty daunting, not least because the law is both intimidating and complex. We know that lots of employers avoid women from the point they say they are pregnant for fear of getting it wrong. This can trigger a breakdown in communication which results in the employee feeling undervalued and concerned about her future. Keeping those communication lines open but being confident you won’t say or do anything that could get you in to trouble can pay dividends in terms of staff wellbeing and retention. Additionally, with many of the cases of pregnancy and maternity discrimination we hear, it is clear that the situation could have been avoided had the employer fully understood what they must do in this situation and what they absolutely mustn't do in this situation. It astounds me how few employers seem to understand their legal obligations and make enormous mistakes as a result.

Flexible working and job shares

Make no mistake, this isn’t just about mothers, In fact recent studies conducted by Fracti, have shown that 88% of all candidates claim they would choose a job with flexible hours and a lower salary than a higher paid role and fixed working hours. A study of UK businesses and employees by HSBC  found that nine in ten employees (89%) consider flexible working to be the biggest motivator to their productivity levels within the workplace, more so than financial incentives (77%). Regions where flexible working is more popular, such as London (where 30% of workers have the option) and the South East (32%), generally see the highest levels of productivity in the UK. In contrast, only 18% of employees in Wales, where productivity levels are lower, are offered the opportunity to work flexible hours.

A survey of 8,000 global employees and employers conducted by Vodafone has found that 61 percent of those polled said flexible working increased their company’s profits rather than reduced them. A further 83 per cent reported that productivity was boosted by flexible hours rather than reduced by them.

An Ernst & Young report found that women in flexible work were the most productive members of the workforce. They wasted only 11.1 per cent of their time, compared to an average 14.5 per cent of the rest of the workforce. This makes absolute sense to me because when you are having to remortgage your house to pay for childcare, you want to make every second count, because, quite literally time is money.

Balancing being a parent and a professional can be enormously tricky. Childcare is extortionate in the UK and can be difficult to secure. When parents return to work after a period of leave many are understandably reluctant to leave their new baby five days a week with someone they barely know, some are simply keen to trim some time at the beginning and the end of the day so they can easily collect their children from school or nursery. As a business, if you are in a position to offer flexible working during the recruitment process and to employees returning from leave, you have an enormous opportunity to attract and retain brilliant people in your organisation. Demand for flexible work outstrips supply so if you can make your workplaces flexible then you will attract talent. If a job cannot be done flexibly then it is worth considering a job share where you get two brilliant minds, often with different skills, for the price of one. Research has shown that roles done as a job share are 30% more productive than when they are done by an individual.

We work some of the longest hours in Europe in the UK and yet our productivity is stubbornly low. Long hours do not equate to increased profit or output. There are some great examples of this. A digital design studio in Glasgow has implemented a six-hour working day and increased its productivity by 40 per cent as a result. Radioactive PR in Gloucester implemented a 4 day working week and continued to pay their staff their previous five-day salary, but they work a day less. The company began with a six-week trial and found that they achieved just as much – and there were even signs of growth.

Pursuit Marketing reported a 500 percent increase in the number of unsolicited job applications after it introduced its four-day week. Since changing to the new 4-day week, productivity has increased by around 30%.

Implementing flexible working, or allowing positions to work as a job share, can feel overwhelmingly complex as it often involves a change of culture and a restructuring of stubborn infrastructures which have existed since the industrial revolution. But, the working world and the employees you hope to recruit have changed. If you are not prepared to offer them the flexibility they require they will go and work for one of your competitors, or setup on their own. Your success is dependant on evolving and ensuring you can attract the skills and talent your company needs and that means implementing flexible working.

Return to work after parental leave

Most mothers fall off the career ladder at this moment, when they return after having a baby. It is not because they don’t want to work, it is because they have changed, they are not the same person they were when they left, and they need some time to adjust, time to work out how they balance their two identities - mum and career woman. If employers get this right and give parents the support they need when they return they will retain a very dedicated employee who has developed a whole new set of brilliant skills from their time away. Companies spend fortunes on graduate schemes but fail to retain the talent they already have because they don’t put enough thought or resource into looking after employees who take parental leave.

Getting this right is about creating the perfect balance of empathy and structured support, alongside ongoing open communication. Companies can create a warm and welcoming environment for returners with some relatively straight forward action, but far too many expect their employee to slot back in and to hit the ground running without any thought for how they are feeling. Even worse, some employers sideline returners expecting them to be less competent and less committed than they were before they had a child. This misconception of working mums can cause enormous issues and is, frankly untrue. Of course mother's now have something they love and adore more than anything in the whole world, but to believe this replaces their passion and commitment to their job would be to suggest that people are incapable of caring about more than one thing at once. Caring for children 24/7 can be mundane, so spending time with other adults in an environment where you are stimulated is even more fulfilling than it was prior to having children. For me, having children made me better at my job, and having a job made me a better mum. I needed the break from my kids and being a mum taught me so many new skills. You know the adage, “If you want something to get done, ask a busy person”? There’s no one busier than a new parent who works.

A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that over the course of a 30-year career, mothers outperformed women without children at almost every stage of the game. In fact, mothers with at least two kids were the most productive of all.

Nearly two-thirds of working mothers believe they’ve become better at doing more than one thing at a time at work after having kids, according to research conducted last year by Microsoft — and there’s probably a lot of truth to that, as research shows that working mothers get lots of experience doing just that. Indeed, a study published in the journal American Sociological Review found that working mothers spend 10 more hours each week (for a total of 48.3 hours) multi-tasking at home than do their working husbands. A study published in the Journal of Social Issues found that both mothers and fathers were perceived as warmer than their childless counterparts

We asked working mums what skills they felt motherhood has taught them, here were just some of the responses:

‘’I no longer procrastinate and leave things to the last minute because in that last minute, a child will get sick or there’ll be a snow day or you’ll lose half the night looking for medium sized dog (toy not real animal). I’m now that person who is the most organised in our department and hits deadlines days before they’re due.’’

‘’I keep seeing all of these young, trendy businesses talking about learning how to ‘pivot’. Honey, until you’ve performed the seventeen distraction techniques needed to get a toddler fed, dressed and out of the house, don’t even THINK of telling me you can pivot.

‘‘I can smile the world’s biggest smile when I feel like I want to cry inside. ‘‘

‘‘I can function perfectly well on almost no sleep, something Business Insider seems to insist entrepreneurs must do to be successful. ‘‘

‘’Patience, empathy and negotiation skills. No one should be allowed to be a hostage negotiator until they have got a toddler to eat just one bite of something they don't like (that they wolfed down the last time you served it)!’’

‘’Ultra-efficient! every day that I go to work is 10-12 hours away from son. I wanted to become a mother to nurture, care, love and contribute an amazing compassionate human to the world and working full time means 40 hours a week, someone else is doing that job. So I'll make damn sure that for those 40 hours I'm on fire. I maximise each 10 hour day because otherwise the sacrifice of time away from him would not be worth while

An inner force that seems to make even the impossible tasks somehow possible as I'm doing it for this little person.’’

In conclusion, making your workplace the best it can be for pregnant women and new parents is good for business. It means you attract the best talent, you improve staff wellbeing, it has a positive impact on your reputation, productivity and profitability. Indeed, If you have a consumer facing company–or a company that engages with consumers in some way–it is crucial that you’re able to understand the mindset of mothers. In the U.S. alone, mothers spend $2 trillion each year, controlling 80% of household spending. Yet, the vast majority of women report that they feel like advertisers don’t understand them.

Gendering Change is our new training company which works with the very best experts across the UK to deliver highly specialised training which will help you make your workplace the best it can be for pregnant women and new parents. www.genderingchange.com