20 August 2014

The unrecognised benefits of hiring working mums

A large percentage of employers discriminate against working mothers, so here are five reasons why women with children can be an asset to your business.

Following the release of several studies looking at discrimination faced by working mums by employers, we discuss the reasons why women with children can be an asset to a company.

Research published by law firm Slater & Gordon this week highlights the scale of employer discrimination against working women with children and even those simply of childbearing age. From the 500 businesses surveyed:

  • 1/3 would rather employ a man in their 20s or 30s rather than a woman of a similar age to avoid the potential issue of maternity leave and childcare arrangements
  • 38% are wary of employing a working mother or woman of childbearing age
  • 1/3 said they thought women weren’t as good at work once they came back from maternity leave
  • 44% financial costs of maternity leave are a major concern for their business

The perception of working mums

The law firm has carried out studies both this year and in 2013, looking at how working mums view the impact of having children on their careers.

  • 51% thought the attitude of their employer and colleagues changed when they announced they were pregnant (2013 survey)
  • 63% thought their employer had a negative perception of working mums (2014 survey)
  • 30% thought their bosses saw motherhood as inconvenient (2013 survey)
  • 60% felt pressured to return to work as quickly as possible (2014 survey)
  • 60% felt their career options had been limited (2014 survey)
  • 1/3 feel they work harder since having a child (2013 survey)

Research by the Fawcett Society, also released this month, indicates that it’s not just women with high-flying careers who face discrimination. From the study, which focused on women earning less than £7.44 per hour, 10% were demoted when they came back to work. This was due to their post not being available as a part-time role, because it had been given to someone else, or because the post had been made redundant.

Plus almost1/4 felt they had less opportunity for promotion after their maternity leave – with 20% citing that they thought their employers considered them less capable or less interested in a promotion once they’d had a child.

Changing culture

The types of discrimination or perceived discrimination in evidence from these surveys are actually illegal, but unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily stop it happening in practice.  

There have been attempts in recent years to make workplaces more flexible and fairer. All employees now have the ability to request flexible working. Plus from April 2015, fathers will be able to share the statutory parental leave and pay that is currently only available to women. While this could help to reduce the traditional view of women being the primary child carers, it will likely take time for shared maternity and paternity leave to become common practice.

Did you know that as a small business, you can reclaim a significant percentage of the cost of statutory maternity, paternity or adoption pay? The amount you can recover will depend on national insurance contributions and if you qualify for Small Employers Relief, but it can significantly reduce the costs businesses incur when staff take parental leave.

Advantages of hiring working mums

Many women returning from maternity leave will come back to work full-time, but a large proportion, whether for childcare reasons or simply for work-life balance, will want to return in a part-time capacity. Here are some reasons why we think you should consider hiring or making an effort to retain working mums.   

  1. Motherhood can sharpen existing skills. A study by Microsoft suggests that women are actually better at their job after becoming a mother. Employers thought that mothers made better team players than women without children and that their team work and their multi-tasking skills improve after having children. The research, which also surveyed mums, indicated that 25% of mums claim to be twice as productive as their partner.  So, if you’re looking for a productive employee, you definitely shouldn’t discount women with children.
  2. They’re loyal staff. If you provide flexibility and manage well, you’re more likely to end up with satisfied workers who are loyal to your business. Happy workers are generally more productive and loyal employees are true advocates of your business and are more likely to go the extra mile.  While this isn’t specific to working mums, the fact that many find it hard to find work or have had inflexible employers in the past, means they are more likely to appreciate a flexible and forward-thinking employer than workers without children.
  3. They work just as hard, perhaps harder. Just because they’re a mum, doesn’t mean they’ll work less hard than other employees – regardless of whether they work flexibly or not. Many mums go to work because they want to, not just because they have to. They can still be career driven and as the research outlined above indicates, mums often work harder than their childless counterparts to prove themselves or to ‘make up’ for working part time.
  4. They’re the forgotten talent pool. If you’ve been looking to hire, but can’t find the right person, think about widening your net to allow the post to be a job share or part-time. A large number mums are highly qualified or have extensive experience – you shouldn’t bypass this swathe of candidates because they may need to work flexibly. While job shares need a little more work to set up and ensure they run smoothly, they can be very beneficial for businesses. You could have two team members with different strengths, meaning that you have a better skillset than you would if you’d just hired one full-time member of staff.
  5. Flexibility goes both ways. If you’re a small business or startup, a part-time worker may be exactly what you need, rather than a full time member of staff. Or if you need more flexibility or a certain experience, you could consider hiring freelancers or virtual assistants. Again, these aren’t specifically working mothers, but many are. The latter options could also save you the cost of desk space, lowering your overheads.  

Ultimately, when you’re recruiting you should focus on the skills and experience you need rather than a potential hire’s gender, age or working hours. Similarly, performance is a much better indicator of how well someone can do the job than the hours they work. Don’t forget that your attitude as the business owner and those of your other employees can have an enormous impact on how returning mothers perform at work.