Recessions provoke different reactions in different businesses. Some innovate and look forward. Some become defensive, taking refuge in outdated values or strategies that perhaps served them well in a distant past. Sadly, it seems that one outdated value to which businesses have resorted is a reluctance to hire working mothers.
And a survey by global workspace provider Regus found South African companies have reduced their expectations to hire more working mothers more drastically than anywhere else (20%).
In South Africa, where 44% of companies plan to add staff, this trend is very evident, with only 31% of firms declaring they plan to hire more working mothers compared to 51% a year ago.
“As a working mother [or woman], I naturally find those beliefs depressing,” writes Therese Meyer, commercial director at Regus Africa.
“Even more depressing and frustrating are the old-fashioned assumptions on which businesses base their reluctance to hire mothers. Employers surveyed by Regus indicated that more than half of South African companies are concerned about working mothers taking time off to have another baby and showing less commitment than other employees.”
The Regus survey also showed that 32% of South African countries are concerned about employing part-time returning mothers because their skills may be out-of-date.
“My own experience – with colleagues at Regus, with customers, and with friends – shows that those misgivings are unfounded. Yes, there’s a chance that women may have another child and take maternity leave, but other employees leave too. There are never any guarantees about the future availability of prized staff, male or female,” writes Meyer.
“And in response to the ‘commitment’ argument, I say that any mother who finds a good job close to home, with good incentives, prospects and rewards, and hours that fit family life, is going to cherish that job. Committed? Absolutely.”
Meyer writes that, fortunately, the prejudice shown by some businesses does not appear to be universal.
“Again, I base this on what I see happening around me. What I see is a world where family-friendly and flexible working is becoming the norm. Employers are allowing staff to work to timetables that fit their commitments, and in locations close to home.
“It’s not just mothers who benefit from this – its fathers, people who care for elderly relatives and anyone else who have commitments and interests outside work – whether playing golf or spending time with their family and children.
“Employers benefit too,” Meyer writes. “By allowing all employees – not just parents – to work flexible hours or closer to home – they get a more productive workforce and a more loyal one. They can cut the costs associated with staff ‘churn’ and also reduce overheads.
“Employers across the world already understand this: 70% of businesses in the Regus survey recognise that flexible working solutions are lower cost than fixed location working. 72% of South African companies are already starting to believe that companies that ignore part-time returning mothers are missing out on a significant and valuable part of the employment pool.”
As South Africa moves beyond recession, Meyer believes it’s vital that forward-looking attitudes prevail over outdated prejudices.
“As businesses go for growth, they’ll need to repopulate their ranks with skilled staff. To ignore the skills and experience of a sector of the population because they happen to be mothers is short-sighted to say the least. Working mothers are a valuable part of the employment pool, and it makes no business sense to ignore them.
“So let’s lose the outdated prejudices about employing working mothers, but let’s also lose the mindset that only women need family-friendly and flexible working options. Flexible working certainly helps working mothers be more productive. But the important point is that flexible working can make everyone more productive – whether they’re mothers, fathers or have no dependants at all.”
*Today, 8 March, is International Womens’ Day.