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It’s time for NZ to take a stand!

I was horrified to hear of the social media attacks on Emma Watson after she stood up at the United Nations Headquarters and formally invited men to participate in conversations about gender equality.

In her speech to launch the HeForShe campaign, Emma shared her experiences of gender discrimination and expressed her hope that men would join the fight for gender equality. “How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feels welcome to participate in the conversation?” she asked.

The same question could be asked of organisations who fail to support women when they return to work after having children.

It’s time for NZ organisations to step up

This week I was interviewed by Campbell Live on the topic of discrimination against mothers returning to work. It’s a topic that is frequently resurrected in the media. Surely it’s time to see some real commitment from our New Zealand organisations to tackle this from the top down?

With women making up over 55% of qualified people leaving tertiary education and just over 50% of the New Zealand workforce, organisations need to  step up and look very carefully at how they deal with gender equality.  In New Zealand, there are significant numbers of women who are either pregnant, on parental leave, have children or are thinking of having children. New Zealand also has a pool of untapped potential talent in mothers who have either not returned to the workforce or returned to the workforce in a role which doesn’t make full use of their skills or expertise.  This is an area New Zealand organisations have not yet leveraged.

As valued and highly skilled employees, women are more likely to return to work more quickly and to show increased loyalty to organisations that invest positive time and energy in them and offer a flexible approach to their transition back into the workforce. I have experienced firsthand the increased levels of productivity that returning mothers are capable of as they strive to achieve maximum output in limited time while juggling the competing demands of family. It may be a well used cliché, but is true that women are natural multitaskers and can have many balls in the air at one time, very successfully!

For organisations, it’s a short term effort for a long term gain.

The WIIFM factor (What’s in it for me?)

Why is it important to help to reintegrate mothers back into the workforce? The benefit of doing so for organisations is the simple fact that it is a far more sustainable approach.  Organisational knowledge is retained and critical role-based relationships are maintained. No organisation can afford to lose such valuable assets.

The danger is, if a mother does not return to work, it’s not only the mother who loses out.  The organisation does too because key talent walks out the door, employees lose out as the workplace becomes less diverse, and our daughters lose out, because they will be the ones who will be left to fight the fight because the women (and men) before them failed to do so.

So, to paraphrase Emma’s question, “How can we effect change in organisations when only half of the workforce is concerned with the problem?” By making sure that organisations understand the benefits of reintegrating mothers back into the organisation and ensuring that everyone works together to make it happen, that’s how.

The truth is, that for organisations to thrive, they need to make it easier for women with children to stay in employment. It’s an important issue, and, as Emma said, it’s an issue for men and women.

  1. Einstein, I think is reputed as having said something like: “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”

    I cannot help but wonder if we address gender inequality with our current mindset, we’ll actually make the situation worse. Our society is based on the survival of the fittest. That’s about competition … be at the top of the heap or fail. Thousands of years of evolution means men are more adept at competing than women … thankfully. I am grateful women are better at nurturing.

    When we flip the survival of the fittest to the original theory of evolution which Darwin stole and twisted, we will start to truly collaborate. Alfred Wallace, in the 1850s proposed that evolution has occurred because of the demise of the weakest. Unfortunately he was of a low social status so he submitted it to Charles Darwin for peer review.

    When human beings transcend the survival of the fittest myth we will start to have gender equality … and all other types of equality.

    It’s only a matter of time … if the human race is to survive. The species that have endured longest on this planet are not based on competition.

    All we have to do is discuss ideas at a higher level and change in the trenches becomes easy.

    Comment by Donald Jessep — October 10, 2014 at 09:15

  2. Hi Donald, thanks for your comment and yes I couldn’t agree more with you that we need to encourage the discussion to take place at a higher level. The challenge can sometimes be that we often have the same kind of thinking at the higher level and it is therefore hard to challenge group think, so we need to tackle this from multiple levels.

    I read with interest recently a response from Jennifer Garner who commented to the media that she is continually surprised how often she is asked how she manages her family and her career and would she mind sharing her top tips. However, not one person has asked her husband (Ben Affleck) that same question. Which on both accounts needs a mindset change. (One) A mindset change that we expect the mother should/or does have constant challenges with managing career and family. (Two) Her husband is also a parent and has challenges managing his career and family also, yet no one asks him for his top tips, or how he manages to do it.

    So yes, let’s encourage the conversation at a higher level as an issue that still challenges many and affects many.

    Comment by Jayne Muller — November 11, 2014 at 09:52

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