Organisations across the UK are seeking to plug a growing digital skills gap estimated to cost the economy £63 billion a year. To help streamline the process of finding and hiring talent, companies have enlisted automated solutions, such as CV scanners, to weed out applications that do not meet role requirements. But, because these systems are designed with efficiency in mind, they often exclude candidates based on certain factors, such as gaps in employment. A recent report from Harvard Business School and Accenture suggests there is a crop of around 27 million “hidden workers” in the U.S. alone.
Undervalued and overlooked
Falling into this category are mothers who have left employment to have children but are then seeking to return. This is a highly competent but often misunderstood pool of talent. In fact, a survey of 520 working mothers commissioned by SkillsNow found that 42 percent had been a victim of discrimination by their employers, simply for being a working mother, while more than 25 percent said they left employment after having a baby due to a lack of support from their employer. In the UK, 15.52 million women aged 16+ were in employment in October-December 2021, according to the ONS UK Labour Market bulletin – up 153,000 from the previous year. Many of these women are already working mothers or will become working mothers. But, rather than seeing the potential value working mothers can bring to an organisation, many companies disregard them, which forces them to take jobs that allow them to parent effectively, rather than roles that fully utilise their skillset.
What these companies often forget is the skills that come with being a parent. 55 percent of those surveyed said they are more resilient; 60 percent more patient; 43 percent more confident; 47 percent more productive; and 39 percent more agile since becoming a mother. These are
all important skills for the modern workplace.
This is a pool of talent – which has only grown in character and experience since becoming a parent – ready, willing, and able to be utilised but currently side-lined by prospective employers. So, what is stopping them from hiring them?
A series of research papers, published separately in Demography and reported by Sara Savat-Wustl for Futurity, argued that inflexible schedules and biased hiring practices, combined with gendered cultural norms around breadwinning and caregiving, led to discrimination against mothers and perpetuated existing gender inequalities in the workplace. In short, working mothers are faced with an impossible standard of being expected to work as if they are not a parent, while raising children as if they do not work.
To address these gender inequalities in the workplace, employers can actively promote a more inclusive company culture that considers the needs of working mothers. Critical is offering flexible or hybrid working hours, allowing mothers to meet the demands of their full-time job and parenting duties. When asked what is needed to be employed as a working mothers, 61 percent said flexible working hours; 33 said the ability to work from home; and 37 percent said a hybrid model that allowed them to work from home and the office. In the post-pandemic era this should not be beyond any business.
Another old-fashioned view is that women fall behind in their career when they take time off to have a baby. But results from the survey show that two out of three women have expressed a desire for more training and development programmes following parental leave. In the digital age, where training resources are available at our fingertips, companies can provide working mothers with an online curriculum that allows them to maintain their existing skillset and expand it – even when they are parenting. Despite this, 39 percent were not being offered the skills development that they needed, while 14 percent were being offered training that does not fit around their life as a mum. By providing flexible working in terms of hours, location, training, and development, many feel they would be empowered to take the next step in their career.
Although companies are becoming more progressive, a small portion (16 percent) of working mothers feel they cannot discuss their needs as a mom with their boss, even though the majority feel trusted in the workplace. Given that 37 percent of women reported a mental health condition after becoming a parent, leadership needs to maintain an open line of communication to ensure working mothers feel their voices are heard and issues addressed. Failure to foster such an environment may lead to them either suffering in silence or simply leaving the organisation.
A helping hand from technology
So, how can companies hire, train, and develop working mothers effectively? At SkillsNow, we have built a HR Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform to address these challenges and more. Applying 20 years’ expertise, insight and unique methodologies, our platform allows businesses to recruit and retain the best talent quickly and easily.
With hybrid and remote-working and learning at its core, the platform is fully configurable with modules to optimise the creation and management of digital talent, enabling organisations to onboard new employees, and provide training and Continuous Professional Development (CDP) in relevant skills to existing employees. This results in reduced risk and cost to employers, while improving employee satisfaction and retention – a win-win for employers worried about the talent shortage and working mothers concerned about the future of their careers.
When a woman comes back to work after having a baby, new ways of working are needed. If more companies acknowledge and adapt their ways of working to accommodate this, then they will reap the rewards brought by a loyal, hardworking, and empowered employee.