The ‘Silent Taboos’ of Recruitment: Part Two

Part Two: Working Mums (and Dads)

We can only imagine what goes on behind closed doors during any recruitment process and trust that those who employ us are relatively fair in their approach to recruiting talent for their workforce. Part Two of the ‘Silent Taboo’ series touches on the sensitive subject of the attitude towards employing women of certain ‘child bearing age’.

There are currently just three women leading FTSE100 companies, with very few in the more senior roles in the Government or in industry. But this is the result of yesterday’s recruitment market with equal opportunities for all regardless of gender; the future is now much brighter …or is it?

Now don’t get me wrong…this is not an article slating men for installing glass ceilings, it’s about the frustrations of women juggling their working lives with motherhood, and companies managing continuity, along with the cost implications maternity and paternity leave has on organisations, especially SMEs.

I remember returning to work in 1990 after an absence of a few years raising my children, fairly confident that the additional qualifications I’d undertaken during this time would enhance my opportunities. The C-level conducting my first interview astounded me when he asked if I had private medical insurance for my family, as he did not tolerate absence when employees’ children were ill. Needless to say I did not pursue the job!


No recruiter would be so blatant today, although work colleagues may be a different matter. Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper pictured above with husband Ed Balls, was the first UK minster to take maternity leave. Writing in The Independent she said that after the birth of her third child, senior civil servants treated her maternity leave with hostility, making it hard to keep in touch, and trying to change her job and working arrangements while she was away.

“It was sorted eventually, but it shouldn’t have been a battle.” Yvette explained, “The last thing you feel up to in the final hot and bothered weeks of a summer pregnancy, or the baby’s early sleepless months, is another argument about your job.”

Referring to the recent House of Commons published research (see below) she stated: “We need national action to deal with maternity discrimination including tackling irresponsible employers who are breaking the law.”



House of Commons Library
Data analysed by the House of Commons Library found that 14% of the 340,000 women who take maternity leave each year discover their jobs under threat when they try to return, with some told that they cannot continue in their role part-time. The new figures show up to 50,000 women who go on maternity leave each year are forced out of their jobs because of discrimination by their employers, with some effectively constructively dismissed.
House-of-Commons-Library-Research Paper (Section 7, page 102).

Slater & Gordon – Employment law specialists
An analysis of 2,000 mothers’ experiences return in to work after the birth of their child were published in a recent report commissioned by Slater & Gordon. This found that three in ten felt their bosses saw being a mum as inconvenient, and the same number thought it had played a major part in them missing out on a promotion.


Lawyer at Slater & Gordon, Kiran Daurka, said: “Despite the equality legislation in place, attitudes and working practices continue to block women in achieving their career aspirations in the UK.”

“This report shows that there are still negative perceptions of women with children and this kind of attitude is short-sighted and bad for business. Anecdotally, we hear of mothers complaining about being put on a ‘mummy track’ when back at work, and this research illustrates that this is a real experience for many women.”  Read the full statement from Slater & Gordon


The Office of National Statistics
A study published in September by the ONS, charts changes in the labour market over the past 40 years and illustrates a dramatic transformation in the make up of the British workforce since the 70s.

In April to June 2013, around 67% of women aged 16 to 64 were in work, an increase from 53% in 1971. For men the percentage fell to 76% in 2013, from 92% in 1971. However, it also highlights how women who do re-enter the workplace have to settle for lower wages and status than their male counterparts.

Although the growth of women in the workplace has slowed over the past two decades, the number of working mothers has continued to rise dramatically, with the study showing that two thirds of married British mothers with dependent children under the age of three were now working.
Read the full report



Carolyn McCall, CEO, Easyjet
Carolyn McCall – one of the three female CEOs in the FTSE100 – is said to prefer a “pragmatic approach to Human Resources”, rather than politically correct niceties. This is probably because she understands exactly what’s involved in balancing work and family life, having had three children, Daniel and twins Max and Emmy, in three years, something we both have in common!

In a recent interview on Radio 4, Carolyn said: “By their second child, women are thinking this is too hot I’ve got to get out of this because I can’t make the numbers work and, actually, I’m stressed all the time.”

She continued: “What I think companies need to do – and I do it, and I’ve done it everywhere I am – is really try to hold those brilliant women at middle management level.  They might do a job share or work part-time for a period – the focus is really about bringing these people onto executive committees and management boards as they are the next generation of CEOs.”

Prior to joining Easyjet, Carolyn, was CEO of the Guardian and the Observer. After the birth of her twins, she can remember thinking she didn’t want people to think differently of her. She mentioned this to a male colleague at the time saying: “They’re all going to think I can’t work so hard, or [I’m] not going not be as good.”

Carolyn explained: “He looked at me and said ‘Are you mad? Of course they are not going to think that.’ That was an important moment; it’s a big deal having twins.”

I doubt that Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryan Air, who dismissed Carolyn as ‘some old media lovie’ when she was appointed at Easyjet, will ever change his attitude towards women leading a FTSE100. While I, on the other hand, sincerely hope that her success – tripling profits in three years, despite having to deal in her first six months with world recession and a volcano – serves as a beacon for other ambitious women.


Susan James – Head of Lower School, The Manchester Grammar School
But times have most definitely changed for many women and for men too. Gone are the days when it was thought child rearing was purely women’s work. Fathers now feel able to take pleasure in the positive nurturing of their children, no longer feeling the necessity to be purely breadwinner and disciplinarian, as was expected of fathers prior to the 1970s.

Susan James has a senior role at one of the UK’s top independent schools. Husband Andy, is Managing Director at Accenture; both see their partnership as equal when it comes to caring for their two young daughters, Ruby and Darcy.

“Even though I feel lucky to have a job I love,” explained Susan, “The thought of being a positive role model for my girls is a major driving force.”

“It’s extremely hard work juggling a family and a job. My place of work was very supportive and I took 10 months away on maternity leave for both of my children; when I returned it was me pushing to get back up to speed sooner rather than later.”

“I am also blessed with a very calm and supportive husband (we share equally the care of our daughters), supportive grandparents and a large sectioned calendar, which is completed and consulted religiously.”

Andy smiled and said: “Susan wants to do a Masters this year. I recognise that this will mean me needing to provide her with a little bit of extra support. I cherish the flexibility my job provides enabling me to play a full part in the parenting duties of our children.”

He continued: “The problem is there only 24 hours in a day – balancing demands from work with the hours required to be a good parent and spending quality time with your other half and having a bit of time to yourself is tough. We have worked it such that we have regular time each weekend for ourselves, and regular family time we all spend together.”

“Ruby and Darcy have a set routine and they are loved and happy in it”, says Susan proudly. “Mummy and Daddy go to work – it’s a given. As Ruby heads toward her fifth birthday more of the world is opening up to her; things that would have seemed unbelievable to me, are now the norm for her.  As an illustration, when we walked past the cockpit to take our seats on a plane she spotted the female pilot. All Ruby said was, ‘look there’s the pilot mummy’. Even though this personally wowed me, I stopped myself from making a deal of it being a woman.”

“In Ruby’s world, of course women are pilots. Her view of the world means she can be anything she wants – this includes being both a loving mother and a successful professional.”


Helen Dufton – Partnership at Arthur Lee Antiques, Knutsford
However, I fear that for the small business, coping with maternity cover and part-time return to work, it will always be a struggle to survive.

When Helen Dufton took time out after the birth of her son, Charlie, from running the family antiques business with sister Vicky, they both say they could not have continued without help from their parents.

Other than the girls’ grandmother, males traditionally took over their family business, founded in 1919, and so maternity leave  had not been an issue. Helen and Vicky took over from their father in 2003, but when Charlie came along six years later it put a real strain on them both.

“It was such a frustrating time for me.” explained Helen. “I felt a totally self-imposed guilt at not being able to give everything to every aspect of my life. It’s a total compromise all round as the business simply could not afford to replace me, while I devoted time to caring for my son in his initial years.”


This meant Vicky working long hours to make up some of the time lost through her sister’s absence and meant her passion for photography had to take a back seat. “Of course I didn’t mind”, smiled Vicky as she interjected. “Yes, you do have to work doubly hard, but I’m supporting my sister and my nephew. Have to say though I’m not sure this is how I’d feel if it wasn’t family and our own business I was supporting.”

Helen continued: “It sounds selfish, but I really wish Vicky would relieve some of my guilt by having a child herself, so that I can then give some of the time back to her.”

She added: “Of course I had no option but to take a career break, but I did resent the fact that there was – and still is – no chance of having more quality time with my son, but we just cannot not afford to replace me. Without the support of my husband and our family we would just not survive. Being a wife and business owner is not the issue for me. However, being a mother takes a huge amount of my emotional energy by comparison.”

And to finally end…

…this much longer article than I initially anticipated, let’s all remember a time not so long ago when there were very few female doctors, lawyers and accountants – the traditional male jobs. As more and more women take on decision-making roles, it will become the norm to have men and women working equally across the professional spectrums, with companies quite naturally enabling the shared care responsibility required between both parents – not just the one who ‘physically’ carries our next generation.

I believe we are at the transition phase and future generations will view today as another important ‘suffragette moment in time’.

Part Three in the ‘Silent Taboos’ series covers:  ‘The Over 50 Factor’

Further Information
The Children and Families Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech in May 2012. The provisions of the Bill that concern leave and pay related to pregnancy and childcare take forward proposals contained in the Government’s response to the Modern Workplaces consultation.

They would implement a system of shared parental leave and pay, whereby a mother or “primary adopter” may bring their leave to an end and transfer to a shared leave and pay system, consisting of one week blocks that can be distributed between two parents.  The current law provides different rights for mothers, fathers and adopters.

Children and Families Bill (HC Bill 131)
Part 6 – Statutory rights to leave and payPage 56 – Section 87-96 – Shared parental leave

Public Bill currently with Parliament – you can follow its progress here

Mike Sandiford
Head of Partnerships
0207 193 9931

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