Imagine the scenario. Three people sit in a room. One is an interviewer. The other two are interviewees, a man and a woman both aged around 30. They are equally qualified and experienced and have both proved through the interview process they have the skills, confidence and personality for the role.
The interviewer starts to consider the options. Both can clearly do the job. But who is the best choice for the company’s investment in time and money?
The new employee will need support by another member of staff for their induction – taking another person from their work for a while. The employer wants someone to help them hit ever-tighter deadlines and reach targets, and be loyal and long term. They don’t want to be sitting here again in six months going through the same nail-biting, finger-tapping interview process.
A new era for employment
Many of us have been on both sides of the table. We know what it’s like to be interviewed. And increasingly, we are taking on employees of our own. Changes in legislation mean that there are certain things we can and can’t ask, or expect to be asked, at interview.
- Are you pregnant?
- Do you have children?
- Do you plan to have children and when?
- At what stage would you intend to come back to work after having a family?
- Would you want part-time or full-time work after having children?
- What plans would you put in place for childcare?
- What plans would you have in place for emergencies – say child illness/school closure?
- Would you expect flexible hours?
- Do you have facilities to work from home if necessary?
- Are you going to want time out to pump breast milk and put it in the fridge? Extreme but legal.
Obviously many of these apply only to women, but the relevant questions can’t be asked to men either (however the risk is a lot lower as only a small number of men take the time off to be the house husband or emergency child care provider).
An interviewer often looks for clues. Wedding rings – not always so reliable as many families are now out of wedlock. Baby sick on the well-ironed blouse? A slight air of Cow & Gate? Anything to give them an idea of what the future could be.
As they tap their fingers they consider which is the least risk? So the decision is made. They turn to the man and say “you’re hired”.
A tough decision
You may think in my role as Chair of It’s Women’s Business Club, Nottinghamshire, a professional ladies’ business club, that I would totally disagree with their decision. But sadly I don’t. I believe many women have started to demand too much from employers and been given massive benefits and freedom by the government.
If we’re not careful we can make ourselves unemployable, giving us even less freedom within our chosen careers. Employers will be scared to employ women as there are so many new rules and laws in their favour which they have to honour while still reaching deadlines, achieving targets and keeping their business alive in tough times.
I do, however, think it’s great things have moved on, as I recall being a single mother 13 years ago with a seven year old. The panic if he was sick – who would care for him, as a day off would have been severely frowned upon? Regular time off could have been a verbal warning or dismissal. Childcare was set in place regimentally. I was never offered flexible hours or shared job roles.
The legal scenario
I chatted to our Business Club HR Specialist, Jo Godson at Fidler and Pepper Solicitors. She explained that recent changes to legislation relating to flexible working requests has broadened out the qualifying criteria so that anyone, not just those returning from maternity leave with young children, can apply.
There are many people for many reasons wanting to balance their working lives with other responsibilities and this is not going to go away for employers. So Jo’s thoughts are that the best approach for employers is to embrace the situation and look at how to draw positives, find benefits for the business and retain the skills of their workforce.
If you’re an employer…
- You may need to give a bit extra, if, for example, your employee needs time to take their elderly mother to a hospital appointment or a young mum wants to swap her hours to attend the school sports day. But do this in good faith and trust that the flexibility will be rewarded with commitment from your employee in return.
- Don’t be afraid to address issues with commitment to the job, work performance or attendance in the same way that you would any employee. Make sure you have the correct, up-to-date procedures in place that allow you to do this.
- Communicate with your staff about what you need from them and work together to find a solution that can work for you all. You might even find this brings benefits you hadn’t considered. For example, if you set up a formal job share arrangement for two employees, you can build in to that agreement that both employees take holidays at different times, so you are always guaranteed at least part-time cover for that job.
We enjoy employment freedom with many perks in this country. It’s important that we all – men, women, employers and employees – work together to keep the right balance.
Find out more…
Gov.UK – Flexible working