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Employers must do more to support women returning to workplace

One of the many challenges faced by women returning to the workplace is the steep cost of childcare, which has in many cases become unaffordable and in certain areas inaccessible to many families. This means that often the only option is for one parent to give up work and stay at home – and in the main, it’s women who do this.

Seven in ten workers believe that Irish employers should offer greater supports for women returning to the workplace following maternity leave or extended time out of the workforce to rear a family.

Such supports could include career coaching and additional training.

This is according to the findings of a recent survey*

Female workers (82pc), those working in large organisations (79pc) and people in healthcare and education (83pc) are most likely to be in favour of such initiatives, according to the survey.

What’s particularly noteworthy is that this support transcends gender lines. Granted more women than men would like to see employers step up in this regard, still, a not insignificant six in ten men also acknowledge the importance of such support. This points to a shared recognition of the challenges women may face when returning to work and the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

One of the many challenges faced by women returning to the workplace is the steep cost of childcare, which has in many cases become unaffordable and in certain areas inaccessible to many families. This means that often the only option is for one parent to give up work and stay at home – and in the main, it’s women who do this. Consequentially, this puts women at a disadvantage when returning to the workplace after extended leave. Often referred to as the ‘motherhood penalty’, such women face challenges such as gaps in their CV, skill erosion, and the perception that they may be less committed to the job.

The Lockton survey found that age plays a significant role in shaping perceptions regarding support for women returning to work. While 75pc of respondents aged 55 and older are in favour of these support mechanisms, only 57pc of those aged 18 to 24 share the same sentiment.

The discrepancy between the older and younger age cohorts may be attributed to the fact that older generations have first-hand experience of the challenges faced by women re-entering the workforce whereas younger cohorts have not yet had such experiences in their lives. Equally, employment tenure is typically much lower in the 18-24 age cohort and their employee benefits preferences are more short-term focussed.

Extended gaps in employment can result in a skills and confidence gap for women returning to work. Rapid changes in technology and industry practices can make it daunting for such women to catch up. Having policies in place such as paid parental leave, flexible work arrangements, mentorship programs, and skill development initiatives can significantly assist women in their transition back to work. These need to be continuously endorsed in a real and authentic way by leadership to ensure any such supports are actually perceived and valued as genuine and not a tick-box exercise in ‘well-being washing.

The findings of the Lockton survey also highlight notable variations across different sectors with over eight in ten (83pc) of those working in the health and education sector standing out as the strongest supporters of assistance for women returning to work. In contrast, just 37pc of the construction and property industry voted the same. Furthermore, the size of an organisation is also a factor, with eight in ten (79pc) of those in large-scale organisations of 250 or more people expressing a desire to see these types of supports in place compared to 67pc of those in smaller businesses of 50 people or less.

The stark contrast across different sectors can potentially be attributed to the male-dominated nature of the construction and property industry. There could be many cultural and institutional reasons why these industries rate lower in this regard, but it highlights the need to bring this conversation to the forefront of workplace policymaking, HR strategy, and employee benefits. This issue transcends the industry sector, as most workers, regardless of their own personal situation will know someone who has returned from an extended career break.

*by Lockton People Solutions[1].

[1] Conducted by iReach

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