As we celebrate 125 years of suffrage in New Zealand, it is also a stark reminder of our glacial rate of progress towards gender equality, and an opportunity to consider the effectiveness of our approach – not only at a national level, but also at a business level.
There are achievements to be celebrated – no less the appointment of our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and her journey into parenthood while in office. Women hold New Zealand’s top three jobs – Chief Justice, Governor General and Prime Minister, paid parental leave has increased from 18 to 22 weeks (and will increase to 26 weeks from 1 July 2020), and we are making progress with pay equity.
But on the whole it is clear we are not where we need to be.
Closing the gender pay gap and increasing the number of women in senior and governance positions continue to dominate our focus. And our performance in both these areas would suggest this is necessary.
Female representation in senior roles in the private sector has hovered at around 18 to 20 percent for several years, and a number of leading companies continue to be without female representation in governance.
The government’s Gender Pay Gap Action Plan 2018-2020 has announced measures to progress the number of women in senior positions in the public sector to 50 percent by the end of 2019, and to close the gender pay gap. And the Equal Pay Amendment Bill, announced on 19 September, claims to make it easier for workers to make a pay equity claim.
These are important steps.
We also recognise the importance of encouraging and empowering girls and women into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) – something that is crucial if we are to truly diversify workplaces.
But how are we breaking down the barriers that exist for women to manage career alongside family, and reducing the rates of under-utilised talent from our workforce? This continues to be a largely illusive piece of our puzzle, and is arguably a major contributor towards the lack of women progressing to senior roles.
A balanced approach
It is plausible to think that a concerted focus on increasing the number of women in senior roles – and the introduction of quotas – will in turn benefit the opportunities for mothers in the workplace.
Yes it might.
But there is also a risk that such a focus could drive a greater divide between career and family – with statistics showing that educated women are more likely to have children later in life, and are more likely to remain childless.
And as we wait, more and more women continue to be impacted at a personal and professional level. And we continue to underutilise skill, and underperform as an economy.
By putting greater focus on retaining and supporting mothers alongside our focus on increasing female representation in senior and governance position, we are far more likely to effectively grow the number of women in senior roles.
We are also far more likely to increase the number of women in governance, close the gender pay gap (which is bigger for mothers), and reduce the under-utilisation and loss of talent.
It will benefit us at a social, business and economic level.
Introduction of flexible-by-default policies within the government’s Action Plan is a step forward. Reviewing policies around parental leave for fathers can also move us forward. But to truly overcome the barriers experienced by mothers, we must understand those barriers, and take action to modernise the way we work in a way that benefits everyone. Being overly focused on headline numbers and quotas will not by itself help us to achieve this in an effective and sustainable way.
Can you name the top five challenges experienced by mothers in the workplace?
Understanding these challenges, and the impact they can have, goes a long way towards creating the structures and practices that help overcome them. CareerMum’s recent survey highlighted the positive impact employer support can have. Respondents who were supported by their employer experienced far fewer challenges on average, and felt less disadvantaged in their career.
But the current landscape suggests women lack confidence in the support they’ll receive from employers, and also show how common it is for women to make career sacrifices as they navigate options to manage their dual role.
Here are some considerations for businesses on supporting mothers in their workplace:
- Consider the bigger picture – the social, business and economic importance of supporting and valuing mothers in the workplace. Taking this view quickly dissolves any perceptions of cost and inconvenience. The latter are merely cues that our work environment does not fit the needs of modern society.
- Understand the common challenges experienced by mothers, as well as the impact these can have. Such insights can support businesses to make simple and immediate changes, as well as developing medium and longer-term goals.
- Make a commitment to the journey – by committing to developing a strategy to attract, retain and support the career progression of mothers, and to leading this journey from the top, a business is more likely to develop successful solutions, and have greater impact than a business that is ad hoc and responsive in its approach.
The CareerMum Network provides a channel for businesses, big and small, to support mothers in their workplace. It recognises and responds to the broad challenges often faced by career mums, by enabling women to identify the support they need on their journey.
The Network also recognises the delicate nature of this topic for businesses to navigate, and the lack of economies of scale that make it viable for many businesses to develop and maintain returnship and support packages for mothers in the workplace. By engaging the Network, businesses can financially support women to engage services that best meet their needs.
CareerMum also offers resources and strategic support to businesses looking to attract and support mothers in the workplace. For more information, take a look at the Business Support section.
CareerMum is a social enterprise focused on driving positive solutions to workplace chalenges experienced by career mums.