Employer flexibility key to attracting skilled, experienced women back to work

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Employers can significantly boost their talent pool by offering part-time and remote roles to attract experienced working mothers to fill current vacancies, says Karen O’Reilly, founder of Employmum and Employflex.

A specialist in flexible recruitment, Karen has seen a fourfold increase in mums contacting Employmum and Employflex seeking a more flexible role or trying to get back into the workforce after being forced out during Covid.

“The calibre of candidates contacting us is so high,” said Karen. “We are talking about women who have years of experience, skills and qualifications, who are now doubting themselves and the lack of confidence among this cohort of women is an epidemic in itself.

“We have had a lot of success lately in placing women with significant experience in finance, legal, marketing, HR and admin roles. We have convinced a number of employers to take on people with great experience and skills for a flexible 32-hour week rather than a 40-hour week.

“Those employers are delighted to have an experienced person doing the work in less time than, say, a graduate who is new to the work. For employers, it means putting the focus on results, thinking of the work they want done rather than paying someone to sit at a desk in their office.

“You can get too caught up on presenteeism. It does require a shift in culture, but that shift to hybrid work models is happening everywhere now in any case.”

With any rise in Covid numbers, there remains a constant likelihood of schools shutting their doors for a number of weeks. In most cases, this means that working mothers currently need flexibility in terms of both working remotely and the hours at which they complete work tasks.

Of course, many women have also traditionally held jobs that were hardest hit by Covid, like hospitality and caring roles. This again requires greater flexibility for women to stay in work. Where real flexibility isn’t available, women have had to leave their jobs.

“The fact is that many of these women may never return to work,” she said. “The gender pay gap also was the push for some mums as, generally the lesser earner in a partnership, meant that finances forced them to leave work to care for the children during lockdown.

“We are seeing women who may have taken redundancy or a break just before Covid and are only seeking to return now as life seems to be settling into some remnant of normality.

“What we need now is a work culture that welcomes these women back and does not punitively view their ‘Covid gap’ in their CV over the last two years. Diversity and Inclusion policies in large organisations mean zilch if HR are not on board to assist with their struggle to regain a footing in their careers.”

 What can employers and HR teams do to attract women back to the workforce? Karen says the work flexibility that women need can take many forms.

She suggests a menu of options for employers to help create a pathway back to work for women: full-time with flexible hours, remote and hybrid models, part-time, job share, term time, compressed hours, annualised hours and ROWE (Results Only Work Environment).

“If the ‘pandemic gap’ exists for people and you have a shortage of skills, now may be an excellent time to introduce a returnship programme – a returnship works like an internship at a higher level, for people who are returning after a break,” she said.

“Companies we work with, like DePuy Synthes, offer real opportunities to returners who feel like the door has been slammed in their face many times. This is also a powerful message from a company to say that yes, our doors are open to returners, and we actively welcome and encourage you to come and work here.”

 She encourages companies to review their job specs for gender bias to avoid intimidating vocabulary or words that come across more masculine or feminine; she suggests HR teams use apps like Textio to reduce this bias when advertising vacancies.

Karen says it is important for companies to get the right messaging out. Employers who have changed their culture to attract skilled and experienced women, Karen says, have been blown away by the benefits.

She says that a woman’s psychological contract with her workplace is far stronger and complex than her male counterpart. Many females are now seeking to work with companies that mirror their ideals and values.

“When an employer offers real flexibility, they get great gratitude in return,” she says. “Women understand that flexibility works both ways. They’re more than willing to get stuck in and give extra time during a peak period, or during the build-up to a launch.

“Women generally enjoy being part of a team. When they see that their employer has taken actions to be more flexible and more family-friendly, women are more than ready to repay the compliment.

“Companies have a real opportunity now to welcome women back, to nurture people who have been inordinately affected by the pandemic by giving working mothers the same opportunities to reclaim and advance their careers.”

  • PHOTO: Karen O’Reilly, founder of Employmum and Employflex, says women returning to work respond very favourably to employer flexibility.


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