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.