Glass Ceiling | Women in Business | Professionelle

By Jayne Muller of Altris

Emma Watson shone a light on the role of men and women in the fight for gender equality at the United Nations in September 2014 and in doing so, engaged another generation in the conversation on social media. Around the same time, Rae Duff, the new leader of the National Council of Women in NZ called for gender equality by 2020. “For a whole host of reasons, women are not sufficiently represented in top management roles, despite the evidence showing that companies perform better with diverse leadership,” she said.

In the 21st century, it is disappointing that gender inequality within organisations is still rife, but it is.

Glass CeilingFor a small country like New Zealand, marginalising a sector of the working population is just ignorant. If it is true that New Zealand faces a talent shortage (and I believe it is), we need to make the best use of the resources we have. Women make up 47% of the New Zealand workforce and 52% of graduates from tertiary institutions, and 85% of paid working women have children. Under-valuing and under-utilising this rich pool of talent just does not make good business sense.

In 2007, concerned about the impact of the talent shortage on New Zealand organisations and eager to understand the reasons behind it, Altris undertook aresearch project in New Zealand.

We conducted one-on-one interviews and focus group discussions with a range of women who were in the process of transitioning out of or into the workforce after having children. Based on these results we initiated two online surveys to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the concerns of women who are thinking about returning to the workforce after having children?
  2. What support is available to them?
  3. What lessons can be learned from other women who have transitioned successfully (or not)?

Biggest worries and most common support

The responses from over 170 women (managers and employees) from a variety of industries, provided insight into the biggest concerns facing women in transition.

The cost and availability of childcare and maintaining a healthy balance between work and family were the most cited worries and it’s no surprise that seven years later it seems that these are still the main concerns of women who are considering returning to the workforce after having children.

Flexibility in working arrangements (part time hours, variable starting and finishing times) was the main form of support available to the women in the study but regular communication during the transition, early appointment of a replacement (giving time for a handover of duties) were also mentioned, and appreciated.

Advice for other women

The women in the study who had already returned to the workforce offered the following advice:

  • take your time and don’t expect too much of yourself
  • try to negotiate flexible hours at first so you can make your transition gradually
  • investigate all childcare options as early as possible (and have a plan B)
  • before you leave work, be clear about your expectations and boundaries and discuss these openly with your manager
  • keep in touch while you are away on parental leave; make sure you get regular updates from your organisation regarding changes/new projects or significant events.

Advice for organisations

Four areas of focus for organisations committed to supporting women as they transition back to work were highlighted in the research.

  1. Proactive communication with women before they leave the organisation and during their absence.
  2. Working together to develop a structured plan to cover the period of exiting and re-entering the workplace.
  3. Active support and understanding from management and team members during the transition period
  4. Availability of information on parental leave, childcare options, flexible working options and policies.

It doesn’t seem too much to ask from our organisations but seven years later, and after many conversations with a cross-section of working mothers,  it seems to me that many organisations are still struggling.


Jayne Aug 14.jpgJayne Muller is an active blogger about the issues facing women in transition

In her latest blog, she asked: “Surely it’s time we saw some real traction from our New Zealand organisations to tackle this from the top down?

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