Time to force change?

An independent Task Force geared to helping retain top talent within the comms industry and narrow the ever increasing gender diversity gap among senior women returning from maternity leave is being spear headed by executive search and selection consultancy, Hanson Search in association with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

This is in direct response to a national survey conducted by both organisations which revealed a record 13.4 per cent of senior employees think employers are out of touch with working mums and plan to quit the industry in the next two years if employers continue to deny flexible provisions for those wishing to return from maternity leave and maintain negative attitudes.

The comprehensive survey, which interviewed 550 women and men working within communications, revealed:

• 9.4 per cent of employers felt they had serious reservations about hiring women aged between 30-40 years old fearing they would, at some point, fall pregnant
• 62 per cent of employees feeling that they will be discriminated against if they were to become pregnant
• 49.3 per cent of respondents HAVE observed issues or problems among colleagues directly related to their return from maternity leave, such as difficulty with flexible working hours, reduction in perceived status and negotiating part-time employment.

The survey further suggests women and, in particular, those in senior positions are considering seeking employment elsewhere if this issue is not addressed fairly (48.5 per cent).

Such anxiety is having a devastating effect on confidence levels among those returning from maternity leave as 48.2 per cent of respondents reported lack of self belief in their ability to do their job as effectively as before. This is worsened by a fear of being undermined by their peers once they return.

Yet unsurprisingly from an employer’s perspective, fear of losing a valuable resource, stability, staffing upheaval and the challenge to fill the recruitment gap were among the long-term concerns from industry bosses regarding the direct impact on the business if a senior female employee considered maternity leave.

So what’s the solution for striking a fair balance?

80 per cent of interviewees believe that flexible working is beneficial to both the employer and employee in terms of time management and time efficiency, with 83.8% suggesting it would be good practice for organisations to implement such strategies.

The survey insights and subsequently the findings from a strategy discussion comprising of senior industry heads, have resulted in a formulated code of best practice to include:

• Creating the Right Company Culture – responsibility of employers to create an open and honest environment to encourage two-way flow discussion, which realistically allows the employee to articulate their future plans before returning back to work
• Taking Responsibility – imperative that middle to senior management employees who become pregnant inform their employers sooner rather than later to enable an effective transition process
• Devising a Maternity Comeback Framework – crucial that employees take responsibility for their own ‘outputs’ and effectively and successfully manage their employer’s expectations to everyone’s mutual benefit
• Reappraising the Legal Situation – employees are entitled to certain family rights. The problem is that many people automatically assume that there are legal pitfalls and issues when there might not be

Alice Weightman, MD of Hanson Search explains, “To help drive positive organisational change, it is critical that momentum continues – not only in helping retain top talent within the workplace but ultimately reducing the gender diversity gap among senior women returning from maternity leave. In doing so, it is imperative that we aim to encourage wider reaching networks and partnerships across like-minded organisations to share experiences/best practices and this will form the context of the Gender Balance Task Force, a central hub/collaborative of key stakeholders which provides a crucial resource/support for both employers and employees alike seeking workable advice and guidance.”

Jane Wilson, CEO of the CIPR, “Both employees and employers must be able to have honest and open conversations about how the requirements of the business can be balanced against the needs of the employee. In a 24/7 world of social media, rolling news and increasing disclosure, this probably matters more to our industry than most other professions. I’m confident that this joint piece of work will help provide a much needed framework for dialogue between employers and returning female employees.”