Working mums, women in tech, returning to work after parental leave, Group of women in a conference room

Article by SkillsNow

According to recent reports, organisations across the UK are seeking to plug a growing digital skills gap, which is estimated to cost the economy £63 billion a year.

Digital skills demand

As the economy recovers from the pandemic, companies require skilled talent that can help digitise and optimise operations. But hiring, training and retaining the best talent is labour-intensive, so employers are looking to automate the hiring process. While this saves time, it comes at a cost.

Companies risk missing out on potentially fruitful talent pools due to automated processes, driven by a lack of insight and even potentially institutional bias. CV scanners, which weed out applications that do not meet role requirements, are designed with efficiency in mind, meaning they often exclude candidates based on certain factors, such as gaps in employment.

Untapped talent

One of the groups falling into this category of untapped talent are working mums, a group of highly talented and experienced professionals that are often overlooked or undermined in the workplace.

A survey of 520 working mums commissioned by SkillsNow found that 42 percent had been a victim of discrimination by their employer on their return to work from maternity leave. Additionally, 25 percent said they left employment after having a baby due to a lack of support from their employer. A host of capable candidates could potentially be overlooked or discarded by companies due to false perceptions and ingrained practices that influence both manual and automated hiring processes.

What is often forgotten 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 21st century workplace.

Instead of seeing the potential value working mums bring, there has been a perception in many industries that they should take jobs that allow them to parent effectively, rather than taking jobs that fully utilise their skillset. This is reflected in the survey, with 46 percent of women admitting they have skills going to waste in their current role.

Here 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 being hired?

Past issues and future possibilities

Inflexible schedules and biased hiring practices, combined with gendered cultural norms around breadwinning and caregiving, have led to discrimination against mothers and perpetuated existing gender inequalities in the workplace.

To address this, employers can look to foster a more inclusive company culture that considers the needs of working mums. Central to this is offering flexibility to allow mums to meet the demands of their full-time job and parenting duties.

Individual circumstances differ, but the top three things survey respondents want from an employer are flexible working hours (61 percent), ability to work from home (33 percent), and hybrid working locations (37 percent). By offering flexible working in terms of hours, location, training, and development, many feel they would be able to progress in their career.

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. With training resources now readily available, companies can provide working mums with an online curriculum that allows them to expand their skillset at a pace that works for them. Despite this, 39 percent of working mums stated they were not being offered the skills development they needed, while 14 percent were being offered training that does not fit around their life as a mum.

Open-door policy

Given that 37 percent of women reported a mental health condition after becoming a parent, businesses, and their leaders, need to maintain an open line of communication to ensure working mums 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.

After becoming a parent many mums feel that their performance and job satisfaction at work increases, given the right working conditions. Companies that build a structure supporting working mums will likely be repaid with more effective and motivated employees, offering greater value to the wider organisation.

A culture of inclusivity

By fostering a culture of inclusivity, companies benefit from better staff retention rates and diverse perspectives. Insights, solutions, and opportunities that may have been previously missed can be exploited. In purely business terms, a workforce that is more reflective of society is likely to enable a business to exploit unseen opportunities.

Many of the traits that great mothers cultivate and practice every day can also be leveraged in the workplace to lead teams. Whether it is balancing competing needs, embracing unknown territory, or being empathetic, organisations can profit from the experience that comes with being a mum.

When a woman comes back to work after having a baby, new ways of working are needed. If more companies acknowledge and implement ways of working to accommodate this, then more mothers will feel empowered to take themselves – and their business – to the next level.