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Why Employers Should Hire Women With Children

Heidy Rehman

Posted on June 13 2017

I don’t have children and so the debate around maternity leave and parenting responsibilities has tended to have remoteness for me, even as a feminist. I’ve always sympathised with the challenges women who juggle a career and motherhood face but never really appreciated the reality. Or at least that was the case when I was an employee at a large City investment bank. I’m now an employer in a completely different industry and have an entirely different perspective.

I’ve been running Rose & Willard for the last four years. Excluding the boardrooms of the major players, the fashion industry is composed mainly of women. By default, therefore, employers like me will interview more women than men.  Maternity leave and the needs of working mothers will always be on the agenda.

I’ve hired men and women and have found that employers could be overlooking the benefits of hiring women with children.

Two years ago, I interviewed a woman who’d just graduated from a pattern cutting degree course and was looking for an internship. She was different to most applicants in that she was interviewing after a complete career change. She’d decided to switch to the fashion industry after spending 15 years in various administrative roles.

And she was completely honest. From the outset she made it clear that, with two small children, she needed a role that offered flexible working hours.

To many employers that would seem a lot to ask, especially by someone who lacked experience. However, I liked her enthusiasm and attitude and decided to see if I could find a way to accommodate her needs. Together, we built her working week around her commitments.

The result has been a success, not just because she’s the right person for the job, but also because she has fine-tuned a highly valuable skill – time management. I’ve found that working mothers operate to a strict timetable – they have to if they are to meet all the demands on their time. This makes them incredibly efficient and productive, and sets a positive example to other team members.

There’s the added bonus of loyalty. Women with children will stick with a company that accommodates their family commitments. This is a benefit to employers because replacing employees adds to risk and costs.

What’s also important is that having children shouldn’t preclude development. I tweeted a newspaper article recently which stated that pay parity breaks down when women return to work after having children. A number of people responded saying that this was obvious because returning mothers worked fewer hours.

According to the IFS (Institute of Financial Studies) mothers who return to work end up earning a third less than their male counterparts because their career progression slows.

Basically the argument is that women are less likely to be promoted because they put in less facetime in the office.

But longer hours in the office doesn’t necessarily translate to higher productivity or lead to someone being better at their job. There’s an old adage – ‘quality over quantity’. As an employer I find the former much more valuable. The woman who started as our intern is now our studio manager.

Without doubt I’ve had an excellent return on hiring women with parenting and even grand-parenting responsibilities, specifically because these women are in the habit of managing their time efficiently and getting the job done – this is why I choose to develop them.

Few employers, however, are willing to take the risk. Part of the issue is that employers look at female employment as a source of problems. They look to government for the solution while fearing that all they’ll get is burdensome and costly regulation. But actually businesses could be more creative and look at the opportunities that hiring and retaining working mothers brings.

Looking at my own experience, our studio manager works for two-thirds of a standard, 40-hour working week. When she’s not there her role is supplemented by a junior who gets to take on more challenging responsibilities. Not only does this create a positive working environment it also helps identify incoming talent.

She also takes the month of August off as an annual sabbatical. This is to accommodate her children’s school holidays when childcare is not always available. She’s also provided with increased working flexibility during other school holidays. And every time, she has the assurance that she will return to exactly the same role.

We are a small company yet we have found a way of working that creates mutual benefit. Larger companies have the resources to do much more.

Now the UK General Election is over, discussion will turn in earnest to Brexit. We don’t know whether Brexit will lead to tighter immigration controls, but, if so, we could lose out on high-skilled immigrants who would ordinarily add value to the economy.

But before that becomes an issue we should consider what women can deliver. In the UK women are 35% more likely to go to university than men and the number of female graduates is now progressively outnumbering that of men.

It simply does not make economic sense to invest in the education of people (women) only to have them withdraw or limit their contribution.

The government needs to consider the pressure on the economy from our challenging demographics; we have a growing proportion of older people. It is now more important than ever for us to generate the best return on our domestic labour force. This means not only keeping women in work but in jobs that add value.

But it's not all down to the government, it's employers who can make the difference. I hope they do because they won’t regret it.

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