With our so-called agile, flexible, forward-thinking business community, it’s astonishing that we haven’t been able to effectively tap into the ‘mum’ workforce.
Returning to work after maternity leave
Here’s a recent example. Two mums – both having worked successfully in one of the world’s leading tech companies – had their children and, after their maternity leave, wanted to come back on a part-time basis. Both mothers, aware of each other’s similar requirements, identified a role in the organisation that they could job share and were more than qualified to do. It seemed like a match made in heaven; they could keep developing their careers, parent their children before and after childcare, and nurture their self-worth. The business would have two highly skilled and dedicated employees, loyal and experienced, to help develop the workforce.
Each mum presented a proposal to the organisation which included rotations as well as extra advantages for it, such as flexibility to cover each other with sick and holiday leave, etc. The organisation – one known for being a self-pronounced world leader in workplace environment and benefits – quickly knocked back the proposal, as the executives couldn’t comprehend the value in having these well-qualified mums job share a management role.
This is just one example of many I have come across, and it’s not because job sharing or part-time work hasn’t been available for many years – it doesn’t appear to be encouraged in career-focused roles.
My own experience as a mum
I was lucky to have been able to keep my ‘hand in’ with my chosen career path when I had my children. I could work in my role during school hours, as well as having the flexibility to work from home during the school holidays.
However, this was more than 15 years ago, when the mobile phone was a brick and a 54k modem was a thing. I can’t tell you how great it felt to have a job that was meaningful and contributed to the growth of the business. My colleagues were supportive and, because of their dedication to the company and each other, I never wanted to let them down. I wanted to remain a valuable member of the team, and I often worked more hours than expected. There were numerous times when I sat at sports grounds after school, tapping away on my laptop as I waited to be my children’s ‘taxi’.
It’s also important to note that this was when permanent part-time had only just started, with ‘casual’ status being the norm for many women in part-time work. This meant mums weren’t being paid any superannuation or given any other benefits like paid leave.
The company I was fortunate enough to work for wasn’t a new breed either. In fact, it had been around for more than 90 years. It was the forward-thinking management and leadership that helped. Everyone was a winner. I was paid a pro rata salary commensurate for the role and hours, had the flexibility for the children, enjoyed the work, was successful and stayed with the organisation for more than seven years.
The work environment today
Today, it’s difficult to understand why there isn’t a united business community willing to tap into this amazing resource of working mothers. It’s not like we don’t have the technology or a strong culture of KPIs to measure performance.
So what’s the problem? Is there still an underlying question of trust, or is it the lack of understanding of how to develop a strong job-share program?
I certainly hope it’s not down to the thinking that you lose capability once you become a mum. The skills you learn while carrying out arguably the toughest but most rewarding role, teaches you many skills that can’t be learnt from trusty Google or your colleagues.
Patience, tolerance, understanding, empathy, just to name a few, are the skills you learn from having children – not to mention time management, decision-making and listening skills. They would all be attributes sought by any recruiter.
And how often do businesses look to get another set of eyes on a problem or an idea? In the case of job sharing you have fresh eyes across the role permanently, as well as the opportunity to nurture a culture of real collaboration.
Surely, we can think beyond massages, free food and gym memberships as benefits to attract great employees. I would argue that flexibility, collaboration, empathy and ultimately better communities are stronger benefits, and just some of the reasons to tap into one of the best resources that is currently underused because of stagnated thinking.