Task force launched to tackle gender gap in communications industry
An independent task force has been set up to help retain top talent within the communications industry and narrow the ever increasing gender diversity gap among senior women returning from maternity leave.
The task force is being spearheaded by executive search and selection consultancy Hanson Search in association with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.
It has been set up in direct response to a national survey conducted by both organisations which revealed a record 13.4% of senior employees think employers are out of touch with working mums and plan to quit the industry in the next two years if employers continue to deny flexible provisions for those wishing to return from maternity leave and maintain negative attitudes.
The survey, which interviewed 550 women and men working within communications, revealed:
- 9.4% of employers felt they had serious reservations about hiring women aged between 30-40 years old fearing they would, at some point, fall pregnant
- 62% of employees feel that they will be discriminated against if they were to become pregnant
- 49.3% of respondents have observed issues or problems among colleagues directly related to their return from maternity leave, such as difficulty with flexible working hours (64.6%), reduction in perceived status (59.9%) and negotiating part-time employment (53.2%).
The survey further suggests women and, in particular, those in senior positions are considering seeking employment elsewhere if this issue is not addressed fairly.
Such anxiety is having a devastating effect on confidence levels among those returning from maternity leave, says Hanson. Some 48.2% of respondents reported lack of self belief in their ability to do their job as effectively as before. This is worsened by a fear of being undermined by their peers (78.4%) once they return.
From an employer’s perspective, fear of losing a valuable resource (57.5%), stability (49.7%), staffing upheaval (35.3%) and the challenge to fill the recruitment gap (51.1%) were among the long-term concerns from industry bosses regarding the direct impact on the business if a senior female employee considered maternity leave.
Some 80% of interviewees believe that flexible working is beneficial to both the employer and employee in terms of time management and time efficiency, with 83.8% suggesting it would be good practice for organisations to implement such strategies.
The survey insights and subsequently the findings from a strategy discussion comprising of senior industry heads, have resulted in a formulated code of best practice to include:
- Creating the Right Company Culture - the idea is that it is the responsibility of employers to create an open and honest environment to encourage two-way flow discussion, which realistically allows the employee to articulate their future plans before returning back to work
- Taking Responsibility - it is considered imperative that middle to senior management employees who become pregnant inform their employers sooner rather than later to enable an effective transition process
- Devising a Maternity Comeback Framework - it is considered to be crucial that employees take responsibility for their own ‘outputs’ and effectively and successfully manage their employer’s expectations to everyone’s mutual benefit
- Reappraising the Legal Situation - employees are entitled to certain family rights. The problem, says Hanson, is that many people automatically assume that there are legal pitfalls and issues when there might not be.
Alice Weightman, MD of Hanson Search, says: “To help drive positive organisational change, it is critical that momentum continues – not only in helping retain top talent within the workplace but ultimately reducing the gender diversity gap among senior women returning from maternity leave. In doing so, it is imperative that we aim to encourage wider reaching networks and partnerships across like-minded organisations to share experiences/best practices and this will form the context of the Gender Balance Task Force, a central hub/collaborative of key stakeholders which provides a crucial resource/support for both employers and employees alike seeking workable advice and guidance.”
Jane Wilson, CEO of the CIPR, says: “Both employees and employers must be able to have honest and open conversations about how the requirements of the business can be balanced against the needs of the employee. In a 24/7 world of social media, rolling news and increasing disclosure, this probably matters more to our industry than most other professions. I’m confident that this joint piece of work will help provide a much needed framework for dialogue between employers and returning female employees.”