Women returning from maternity leave are being forced to ‘dumb down’ their skills in order to keep their old jobs and find new ones.
The Australian Financial Review’s Workforce Productivity Summit uncovered the trend and said that it was one that needed to change to improve productivity in the future.
Workplace Gender Equality Agency director Libby Lyons said that research showed women wanted to work, and that many considered work to be a necessity in their lives. However, our society doesn’t make it easy for them to get back to work.
“…Because of traditional roles, that we need to challenge, they [women] are the primary carers so they need to work in a part time or casual basis. Unfortunately for women who want to return to the workforce most of that part time or casual work is in that non-manager group.”
Lyons said that a change in thinking about the how managerial positions might be undertaken was necessary to allow those women to move forward.
“…Because we traditionally do not believe that managers can work part time, women are having to dumb down their skills and go into roles that are part time. We are losing that wonderful talent.”
Employers Making A Difference
According to Lyons there are some employers who are beginning to realise this and are making changes to their maternity programs to match. When addressing the summit in Melbourne recently, Lyons applauded the initiatives of Caltex and their “fantastic” program. The company not offers women returning to work a 3% bonus for the first two years of their child’s life, plus funding for emergency nannies and more. As a result 100% of Caltex staff are choosing to return after their maternity leave.
“This is a productivity gain because they are not having to recruit and retrain,” Lyons said.
Another company that believes good processes for parents returning to work is “absolutely fundamental” is ASX. Their chief executive Elmer Funke Kupper explained that in their company people going on leave are assigned a ‘buddy’ to keep them abreast of what is happening while they’re away. If they’re a senior staff member, they’re also automatically invited to senior management meetings, although they aren’t required to attend.
Mr Kupper also drew attention to a trend that many employers consider a problem with mums in the workforce. Known as the ‘mummy track’ it’s a problem where women’s careers tend to slow down after they have children. Kupper said that although ASZ have a “relatively high return to work rate of 90-100 per cent” that after two years the number drops back to 70 per cent. He also noted that is was difficult to get high performing women back on track in their careers after children, as they were often typecast as having different life priorities.
One thing that Mr Kupper was very clear about was the need for the government to set clear targets for women workers in very government department and board, and to see itself as a role model. Kupper believes that government ministers should impose a ban on being a member in any panel that wasn’t gender balanced. As a member of the Male Champions of Change, Mr Kupper and many others already refuse to speak or participate in all male panels.
The Male Champions of Change was an initiative implemented by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, which has been widely applauded by professional women. However, the initiative is just the beginning.
Wendy McCarthy, the chairperson of Headspace, said that it was difficult to maintain women in the workforce after they had children, but many professional women do their best work later on. She believed that better early childhood education in Australia could help women overcome the stigma attached to currently available childcare providers. At the same time, she recognised that attitudes needed to change on both sides.
“The birth of your first child changes the equation about how you feel about your job,” she said.