International Women’s Day was all about #BreakTheBias, imagining a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. One of the many places women still experience bias is at work – especially after having children. In my opinion, companies who can create a safe, supportive environment for working mums will find they are much more attractive to work for than the competition.
The issues highlighted by International Women’s Day continue to affect women all year around. As a working mum myself, working in the recruitment space, it was interesting to reflect on the topic of ‘bias’ this year.
I’ve experienced firsthand how your priorities change after having children and how that plays out professionally. Luckily, I’ve been very well supported. I’ve also got an insight through our clients and candidates of what companies are doing to support working parents.
With this in mind, this is the first of a series from me looking at working mums, the challenges we face and how companies can better support working parents. I’ll be joining forces with Celine, who is a Partner at parents@work. The purpose of this international organization, based in Switzerland, is to support and empower working parents in the workplace.
Here are my thoughts on some of the ways working mums can face bias at work.
- We need to juggle
Work life, parenting life, school life, sporting life, education. Everything that goes with being a mum has to be balanced with delivering top priority work.
Work is very important, but it is also just one part of the picture and not all companies appreciate that.
- Our family shouldn’t be a secret
Being able to voice your opinion in the workplace is very important. You don’t want to feel afraid to speak up for fear of being seen differently.
It’s about having the support in the company, not having to keep your private life completely private. You are a mum and there are challenges you face.
- Career progression matters
It’s a fact that women are still massively underrepresented in senior positions. In January, women across the Netherlands changed their name on LinkedIn to Peter to raise awareness that there are more Dutch CEOs called Peter than CEOs who are female.
Having families isn’t the only reason this bias is happening. But, companies can make sure the career progression offered to women doesn’t stop after they have children. Many employers assume mums returning to work after maternity leave will want to be on ‘cruise’ mode. This assumption may mean they are kept away from promotion opportunities or new challenges. Let’s ask what people want before deciding for them!
Reaching an objective is a main indicator of fulfilment at work. If those objectives are not there, employees (in this case working mums) will get disengaged.
Companies should review what they are doing to help people grow into senior leader roles and develop their skills. That’s so important.
- Flexible working is vital
One of the few good things about Covid was the rise of flexible working. This is brilliant for working parents, making it much easier to manage work along with unavoidable things, like looking after sick children. Instead of 9 to 5, you could, say, work from 8-3 then jump back online in the evening.
When you have younger children, there are a lot of extra costs when you go back to work. In many countries, including the Netherlands and Switzerland, school aftercare is expensive, and private childcare can be hard to find. You have to pay these extra fees to show you can do the same job as someone else, but still be a mum. Flexible working arrangements can take some of the pressure off.
Now, there’s the discussion around the 4-day working week. That could tie in with working mums having more time, while delivering the same quality of work.
- Our idea of a reward might be different
What a company sees as beneficial, or a bonus is not always the same for everyone in the team. People have different expectations or requirements in life. Some thrive on a monetary value for performance, some like a weekend away as they get to be free.
Company rewards that involve a night out might not be what working mums are looking for, involving extra childcare arrangements. Or, it might be perfect! It’s about asking the question.
What it comes down to, is that if companies support their workforce, whatever diversity that person has, people will stay for longer. If you don’t, you’ll soon find yourself going through the whole process of hiring all over again.
What is your experience as a working mum? Have you been supported and been able to develop in your career, or faced bias? I’d love to hear from you.
Account Manager, Amsterdam Office