The question of a gender gap is something I can speak about based on my own personal experience.
I’m a mother of two children under three, I run an organisation with two offices, and I had maternity leave twice within the first five years of the business starting up.
I work in recruitment and know with certainty that return to work professional mums struggle to re-enter the workplace. FULL STOP.
I also know that there is a reality that maternity leave in most large organisations has a dark fog surrounding it. And there is a reason for that. Maternity leave and the creation of part-time roles creates an operational challenge for the employer.
As a woman leading an organisation who employs other women in similar situations, I fully understand the difficulties involved in being a professional working mum. It’s an impossible goal to try and work full time and be a mum full time—there has to be a compromise.
The gender gap begins when the return to work mum is unable to re-enter her profession after a break to raise children. This has nothing to do with her skills and expertise, and everything to do with the gap on her resume. So how do we overcome this?
The role of the organisation
As a CEO, I can see things from the organisational viewpoint as well. From this angle my biggest challenges are:
- How do I retain my top performing women who want to have a baby?
- How do I reintegrate them if they want to return to work part-time?
- How can I change my business model to provide a high performing part-time function?
What I can do is change the role to allow these women to more easily reintegrate to the workplace. I can also acknowledge that their role may require a different structure over the first five years of their child’s life. When more organisations adopt this way of thinking and act on it, the first steps will be taken in bridging the gap.
This is a CULTURE CHANGE.
Super woman doesn’t exist – you CAN NOT do it all
Women acknowledging and accepting that the structure of their role has changed and that they can’t do it all (no matter how much they’d like too) is another important step in reducing the gap. When professional mums are returning to work, things will be different and they need to be prepared for this.
If you want your employer to provide you with flexibility then it should work both ways. Think about what parameters are required for the role to be successful (in a flexible or part-time manner) and pitch that as your goal. Sell to your employer the benefits of the structure. This shows that you are thinking about them and the greater good of the organisation and not just you and your own welfare.
You are worth it!
A big challenge here is for women to accept the change while maintaining their self-worth and confidence in their abilities. Don’t feel half an employee because you work half the hours. Focus on what the goals are in the time frame that you work and achieve them. Celebrate them when you achieve them. Women need to believe that they deserve the restructured role and not feel like it is a backward step.
Help for professional mums
Kate Mills, CEO of the Financial Executive Institute has seen firsthand the challenges the gender gap has presented to women. She has set up and is the CEO of Professional Mums, an organisation that matches high profile professional women returning to work with senior positions in big firms.
Kate saw the need for an organisation to exist that matched the talents of professional women who’ve had a break from work due to family commitments, with the senior roles that suited their skills and experience, and yet which allowed flexibility. She saw that the traditional recruiting pathway was flawed and that women were being consistently overlooked as they did not pass the recruitment triage process that identifies suitable candidates.
Professional Mums negotiates with organisations looking to fill senior roles and finds an outcome that suits both parties. A good example is where a company may need a three day per week director of marketing for a particular product division – a professional return to work mum is the perfect answer!
Can we close the gender gap?
I personally have encountered stories of women who have been out of the workforce for a few years and have faced rejection after rejection when applying for positions they are qualified for. Often it’s only based on referrals or luck that a role fitting their skills is found. Women are falling through the gaps in the recruitment process and this should not be happening.
When organisations adjust their thinking and realise there is a lot to be gained by having a flexible approach to the roles that return to work mums are filling, we will begin to close the gender gap. Recruiters must also adapt. The triage process needs to change as we are losing too many skilled women because of it.
Women who have taken a break from work should remain confident in their skills and experience, while also being ready to adjust to changes in their careers. To balance work and family life, there needs to be a compromise.
Organisations like Professional Mums have the right idea – return to work mums have a lot to offer the workforce. Their expertise in their chosen career should not be overlooked because of the gap on their resume.
For us to see any real progress, and if the gender gap is to become smaller, the business landscape needs to change—the organisations within it and their recruitment processes.
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