It’s been long recognised that families are more willing to move when his job dictates than hers. Traditionally, theories as to why this happens include gender roles which dictate that a man’s job is more important than his female partners or the fact that men on average have had greater earning potential – so families simply follow the money. However, a new University of Minnesota study by Alan Benson published in Demography suggests a 3rd reason may be the root cause – men are more likely to pick jobs that require presence in a sector-relevant location; women pick jobs that are less ‘geographically clustered’. Male dominated sectors such as engineering or oil and gas are based in certain hubs whereas teachers, administrators and healthcare workers are in demand everywhere. But why are women drawn to ‘geographically dispersed’ jobs? Early expectations may play a big part. If people assume that families will put a male breadwinner’s job first, it makes sense for women to be drawn towards fields that give them mobility.
In the UK, there are currently 14.4 million women in employment, a record high, according to The Telegraph but the Government want to see nearly 500,000 more by the beginning of 2016. The Chancellor, George Osborne, stated: ‘Today’s Treasury research shows that women are playing an ever larger role in the economy, but it also makes clear that there’s more we can do to support women into work’. So how exactly does he plan to incentivise women back to employment?
The Government proposes to reform childcare to support families. £2million would create 50,000 childcare places across the country; and introduction of tax-free childcare would cover up to 20% off childcare costs for a maximum of £2,000 for each child. As an added carrot, the current government would extend the New Enterprise Allowance and Childcare Business Grants, which provided money to prospective childminders to start up nurseries in England. So far, these initiatives have generated around 4,000 new childminders creating 29,000 childcare places.
Childcare is a hot topic amongst all parties with Nicola Sturgeon, in Scotland last month promising to double the amount of free childcare available for three and four-year-olds taking the number of free hours from 16 to 30 every week if the SNP wins the next Holyrood election.
The proposals have evoked mixed reactions: Minister for women, Nicky Morgan, said: “I’m delighted more women are working than ever before – in the last year alone 350,000 extra women have been employed, giving them greater financial security. Women are making huge strides in the economy and it’s vital that their contributions are recognised.”
But not everyone sees this as progress. Laura Perrins, from campaign group ‘Mothers at Home Matter’, said: “Osborne fails to understand that mothers caring for children are working. They are caring for their kids.” She felt paid daycare places stigmatises stay-at-home mothers by suggesting paid work is the best way women can contribute.
We believe woman shouldn’t have to choose between their career and their family. The proposals encouraging stay-at-home mothers to go to work follow last year’s changes to child benefit which forced many back into the workplace.
Too frequently we see clients object at making certain roles flexible with the argument: ‘But Tim’s always been in the office’ or ‘I don’t think Sarah’s team would know how to cope if she wasn’t always around’. Sorry, but ‘we’ve always done it this way’ is no longer an excuse forward thinking organisations can use when thinking about staffing. Planning for flexible working is only going to increase as Sara Hill, CEO of Capability Jane found when they looked in depth at the issue:
- 79% of women stated that working from home for all or part of their role would be desirable.
- 64% wanted flexible working.
- 60% wanted to work part time (3 days a week).
It’s time for a team approach to establish a plan for the change towards flexible working. A proactive leader will gather the affected team together and get them to assess:
- the role of the individual.
- area of responsibility and the effect a change will have on the team.
- how to combat the challenges or stumbling blocks.
If managers focus on these basic fundamental points they can create a flexible, tangible working map to act as guidance for assessing and establishing flexible roles within an organisation. The roadmap and process can even be used for other employees. Sara Hill believes it’s vital to document the set up process; listing facts that make it work and the obstacles that hindered the implementation of flexible working. This document can act as a benchmark for policy to use within the company as a whole.
Many of Female Breadwinner’s clients, despite working to improve their gender diversity, find maternity leave to be a big challenge. Interestingly, the progressive men, often those whose wives work as well, notice that working mothers are some of the most conscientious employees. They don’t have time to waste and are incredibly efficient. A coaching client recently explained: ‘I was considered high-potential before I had children, but I’m actually more productive since I’ve had my second son. I just don’t have the hours to be anything else. The irony is that I know I’m no longer considered a rising star!’
Forward thinking employers recognise it’s well worth the effort to retain a long time employee now on maternity leave. Josephine Fairley, Co-founder of the rapidly growing Green and Blacks, points out the advantages in the misleadingly entitled Telegraph article Maternity leave is a nightmare for employers. Fairley explained: “…In my experience, female employees make up for lost time in the wee small hours to get a job done, if that’s what it takes (and without being asked). I had two fantastic single mothers working for me, Cluny and Gail, when I was running Green & Black’s – and my absolute understanding of the tugs on their time turned out to be repaid hundredfold in loyalty, over the years. I’d like to propose to any employer of mothers out there that a shift in attitude might very well deliver the same willingness and fealty.”
If taken up by men more equitably, we anticipate shared parental leave from April 2015 will make young women less suspect as potential employees.
Even in this day and age; ambitious women sometimes ask me: “I just got married. Do you think this will reduce my chances of securing a new promotion?” I empathise with the question; when I became engaged 10 years ago, I didn’t wear my ring except at the weekends. My employer knew my boyfriend was in the UK and it would have forced questions as to where we were planning to live that I wasn’t ready to answer.
Many working women feel that being married changes the way their employers perceive them; as if they are about to leave to have children or become ‘less committed’ now that there perhaps is another breadwinner on hand.
Clearly, this isn’t a question I’m alone in answering. A recent survey in the UK on reasons why women remove their wedding rings showed 35% of women regularly remove their wedding or engagement rings at work, believing appearing single increases their chances of getting a job or being promoted. A further third take their rings off when going for a job interview.
The Telegraph commented on the survey, “The research suggests many women worry that employers or prospective employers interpret a wedding ring as ‘about to take time out and start a family’, making her an “unattractive hire”. Men who wear wedding rings, on the other hand, do not face the same fears.” In fact, we often view married men as the most stable and hardest working. After all ‘they have a family to provide for’ – a 21st century reality we overlook for women.
Have you ever hidden or been tempted to hide an impending engagement or marriage by removing a ring?
Employers are often unsure if and how to fill temporary vacant positions, uncertain if female employees will return to work. On the other hand, many dedicated new parents find their positions threatened by inflexible company policies. There are steps you can take to ensure your boss knows how committed you are to your career. So how can you send the right messages to your employer before you take parental leave?
1. As with most challenges, communication is key – before, during and after an employee’s return. If you as an expectant mother want to return, be very clear with your boss that this is your intention. Don’t fall foul of the assumption you won’t be interested in new opportunities or promotions because of mothering. Too frequently if bosses routinely see women leave after becoming mothers, they assume ‘that’s just the way it is’ and we mentally prepare for her permanent departure. This is particulary prevalent among male managers whose wives left the workplace after they had children.
2. Insist you have access to the company intranet and other industry news. Markets can change quickly and you’ll be up to speed faster if you are kept in the loop. Otherwise, lack of communication can build up resentment on either side, with each side assuming they are doing the other a ‘favour’. To this point, keep in touch with key clients so there is less of a chance of your client book ‘migrating’ in your absence.
3. Whilst on your leave; begin discussions with your boss on how you’d like to return. What’s feasible with the daycare options you have. Choices like a staggered return to work, part-time or remote working, onsite childcare or job sharing are all options worth exploring. While there is no standard solution to the issue, it’s like any other extended absence – the key is in having honest conversations.