For the last 8 months, I’ve been thinking about this question. I’ve been contemplating putting something out to market exploring the stigma attached to asking the question about maternity policy and pay when joining an organisation;
Let me start the story… Last year I was working with three very successful individuals who were at the start of their job search; I went about my way of supporting them and, having known them for some time and having an obvious interest in their next steps, we had a discussion around what next move would optimise their career development. We worked through multiple interviews, they did extremely well and a few steps on we got to the ultimate result, the offer stage. We negotiated strong offers which matched their worth in the market and technical abilities to which they subsequently and very happily accepted. It was then that the same question reared its head... "Lucy can you find out the maternity policy." A question which, now I think about it, has been appearing for the entirety of my recruitment career but has recently become more prevalent.
Now, whether we like to admit it or not, and whether we agree with it or not, future employees and recruiters get stuck by this completely legitimate question.
“Will they think I’m going to get pregnant within the year and not offer me the job?”
“Will it limit my career opportunity in the company?”
“Will they think differently of my candidate?”
These questions are all too common following a very simple, information gathering exercise and, with the topical debates around gender pay and senior female leaders, should not be raised at all.
The above has previously led to recruiters (including myself) finding innovative ways to understand organisations maternity/paternity policies. In each situation, we feel like we have to tread carefully in order to not cause any unnecessary disruption with the interview process. This (plus a glass of wine) got me thinking, why? In a society where men and women are equal and we are trying to increase the number of senior female leaders, why is this the case?
Thankfully each of the above cases worked out well and these three very successful women secured themselves fantastic jobs. Fast forward eight months... I’m with a friend and the topic pops up again, “I’m looking for a new job at the moment Luce, but I need to think about where I join as I’m not sure what the maternity policies are in the places I’m looking at. I don’t want children now but I need to think about eligibility for mat pay and how long you have to be there for...can you help?” This is another very successful, high achieving woman who is considering putting a hold on her job search/career development because she may decide to have children in the next five years....does that not defeat everything we are trying to achieve by looking at the gender pay gap?
I've discussed it with other friends, my parents, clients, colleagues etc and we have all come to the same conclusion, that’s its unexplainable and unacceptable. In a world where this topic is so important, why aren’t we doing more?
Why can’t I ask (and feel comfortable asking) an internal Recruitment Manager what their policy is around parental leave and how long you need to be there to qualify for it?
Why is it not listed on their benefits page on their website/brochure or in the contract so that it is clear as day what you are signing up for in 1, 2, 5, 10 years’ time?
Why are we not encouraging conversation around this topic, and let’s be honest, a topic which is more natural than work?
So, what are my suggestions?
First and foremost, I think we all need to be more comfortable speaking about the topic and our plans. We all get asked the question, 'Where do we see ourselves in five years’ time in terms of our career?' Perhaps we need to start incorporating family in to that and be more open?
This is a big ask given that we will need to overcome a social stigma, but I have seen it done multiple times in my lifetime. People are becoming more open discussing mental health which is fantastic, we are now more than happy to share who we are voting for which was a definite “no go” as I was growing up, and being open about sexual orientation has become a business norm to the extent it’s almost yesterday’s news.
All of these matters have been backed by society and together we are slowly changing the norm but it takes more than one little article by me to remove this stigma.
I would encourage any thoughts, ideas, comments below. The more discussions we can generate, the quicker we can get to a place where this stigma no longer exists.