It is no secret that working mothers are some of the most hardworking and dedicated employees out there. They manage so many responsibilities, and they show up to work every day like world-class employees. However, despite all of their hard work, they often face discrimination and unfairness in the workplace.
Working mothers are often passed over for promotions and raises (just look at the gender pay gap people). They are also given less senior assignments and projects. And when it comes to layoffs, we saw in the Covid pandemic, working mothers are often the first to go.
"Instead of limiting the career trajectory of working mothers based on bias, companies should proactively create growth pathways for these high potential employees, and provide them equitable career opportunities" says Sophie Smallwood, co-Founder of Roleshare, a platform that enables enterprises to retain their top talent by matching them to share senior jobs together. "I understand companies need to operate, produce, compete, innovate... . And I don't think offering flexibility should take away from that. With Roleshare, specifically, companies actually get more. More skills. More productivity. More continuity."
Companies sadly have lost so many talented women because of inflexibility, who, like a phoenix rising out of ashes, are blazing to change an unfair reality. Roleshare recently interviewed Elizabeth Willetts, who after being made redundant from a part-time job she loved at the height of the Covid pandemic, founded Investing in Women - a female-empowering job board and community.
What motivates you to do what you do?
I was made redundant from a part-time job I loved during the height of the Covid pandemic. My daughters were 1 and 3 at the time. I didn't want to miss out on all their precious milestones working full-time. I, therefore, focussed my job search on part-time and flexible roles.
But I quickly discovered it wasn't easy to find 'good quality' part-time roles. A quick search on Reed at the time showed that less than 4% of jobs within my sector (Recruitment) mentioned part-time. And when I clicked further into these roles, most weren't even recruitment at all, but positions within the childcare and caring sectors?!?! These are positions that society (wrongly) values the least and therefore sit within our worst-paid sectors.
And each time I mentioned part-time with a Recruiter, they quickly told me the role was full-time only, or worse, they ghosted me!
It soon became abundantly clear that to maintain my family-friendly hours; I would have to take a big step down in my career (and a significant cut in salary, making childcare unaffordable).
Looking back on my own 14 career in recruitment, I knew I had hired 100s of people into roles – but not one had been in a part-time capacity.
Rightly or wrongly, most child and elder care fall to women. On average, women do twice as much housework as men. The ONS estimate that our unpaid economy (primarily powered by women) is worth £1.24 trillion – larger than the UK's non-financial corporation sector. Overall unpaid household labour is equivalent to 63.1% of gross domestic product (GDP).
And the Covid pandemic has further highlighted the inequalities within our home and society. Society runs on unpaid female labour. But, rather than gratitude and recognition, we are punished with low paid jobs and a motherhood and part-time penalty that prevents us from climbing the career ladder and achieving our full potential.
And, historically this negative attitude towards part-time work and returning to work after a career break has contributed to the gender pay gap.
I don't want my daughters to have to choose between a fulfilling career or time with their family like I, and so many of my friends, have. I believe we should be able to 'have it all' – whatever all looks like to you, and flexible working for both genders is the answer to that - and a fairer and more productive society.
What do you think is the single most important investment companies can make today?
Richard Branson famously said, "Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients".
And this is true – the best investment companies can make is in their staff – their training, development, wellbeing and compensation. If you treat your staff as human beings – not just commodities or numbers, they won't want to let you down (so will do a fantastic job) and won't want to leave (and will therefore save you money in recruitment and training fees). Branson also said – "Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough, so they don't want to".
What are the unique challenges women face in financial and professional services? And what is the impact?
Those in Financial and Professional Services traditionally work long hours. We see Financial and Professional Services as 'macho' industries - the higher up you go, the fewer women there are. Women want inspiring female role models to look up to and speak out for them at a leadership level about the specific challenges they may face.
Many networking events happen in the evening, which many mothers can't (or don't want to) make. Therefore they miss out on opportunities to make those connections and win business for their firm. This has a knock-on effect on bonuses and performance reviews.
In addition, many Professional Services firms charge their staff out by the hour. They charge a significant premium, making a sizeable hourly profit per employee. The shortfall in profit does not cover the smaller cost base for part-time employees, making them less attractive on paper if just considering the bottom line.
All this has a knock-on effect. Fewer flexible and part-time roles are advertised - pushing more women out of the workplace, and providing fewer opportunities to move elsewhere (and as a Recruiter, I know the best time to get a pay rise is when you switch jobs).
If you could share three pieces of advice with the CEO of a global Financial Services company, what would it be?
If you are serious about having more women in the boardroom (and you should because - global analysis shows, companies with diverse boards outperform their rivals. Gender diverse leadership teams also deliver an 18% return on equity premium), then more needs to be done to prevent women dropping out of work at that critical mid-career point when they start having children. And a key way to attract and retain women in work is to offer flexible working. In 2019, Zurich became the first firm in the UK to advertise all its vacancies with the options of "part-time", "job-share" or "flexible working". Senior female hires also rose by a third.
You should also consider how you are rewarding performance and if there is a bias towards men. Make sure you regularly review pay rises to ensure they are fair - evidence shows men are more likely to ask for pay rises than women.
And try to encourage more networking to happen at lunchtime - not only is this fairer for those who have other commitments, but it also promotes a better work-life balance and less burn-out.
With remote, hybrid, 4-day work weeks becoming more widespread, do you feel this will suffice in supporting working women in the workforce? Why? or Why not.
Although 4 days might not suit everyone (I personally would prefer working 5 shorter days whilst my kids were at school), I think anything that encourages dialogue around flexible working should be encouraged. I also imagine those companies who sign up for the 4-day weeks will generally be great places to work and care about their employees. It is also less of a leap for firms to agree to 3-day contracts if the rest of the business is working 4, rather than 5 days.
Elizabeth Willetts is the Founder of Investing in Women - a female-empowering job board and community. She is an experienced Recruiter with over 15 years of experience - both in-house at one of the Big 4 and from one of the UK's largest recruitment agencies.
Elizabeth is also a mum to two daughters - Emily and Annabelle (and a Labradoodle called Dougal). She is a passionate believer in the power of part-time and flexible work to retain women in the workplace and close the gender pay gap.
For more information about Investing in Women please visit their website - www.investinginwomen.co.uk