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The Right and Wrong Ways to Deal with Motherhood in the Recruitment Industry

The Right and Wrong Ways to Deal with Motherhood in the Recruitment Industry

Written by James Osborne

Last edited May 3, 2023

The Right and Wrong Ways to Deal with Motherhood in the Recruitment Industry

This article looks at both sides of what is always a delicate situation. So how should we as employers play this situation at such an important time in your employee’s life? Part of of our #RecruitmentMeansDiversity initiative.

How excited are you to hear that your top biller is pregnant? 

The number of women working in the recruitment sector as consultants is rising, and with statistics proving they are consistently showing up as the majority of top billers in the league tables, how we as employers cope and react to our staff becoming mothers is more important than ever. It is time for us as an industry to consider whether we are really encouraging our top female talent to return.

As part of our new initiative at The Recruitment Network, #recruitmentmeansdiversity, we hope to shine a spotlight on how the recruitment industry currently attracts, retains and treats their talent. On 7th December we will be bringing together industry thought leaders to tackle these questions at our first roundtable discussion. We will be challenging different aspects of diversity, starting with this project focused on women in recruitment.

This article seeks to look at both sides of what is always a delicate situation. There is no doubt that as a good employer, and on a human level, when a talented employee breaks the news she is expecting you will of course be delighted for her. Although you might be feeling mixed emotions and reactions about the news, rest assured your consultant will be experiencing just as many, if not a lot more. So how should we as employers play this situation at such an important time in your employee’s life?

Some of our initial reactions are sure to be:

1) Absolutely delighted for her and her family!

2) Panic!! Will she come back after the baby?

3) What are we going to do about her clients, who will look after them?

4) How will we cover her workload and cope without her?

5) Ultimately, how much revenue will we lose!

However, if we are able to challenge our initial reactions and instead focus on how we can support and encourage them through this period of change, I believe it will greatly improve employers ability to retain talent within their business. By being empathetic, open and honest you have the power to change what can be an uncertain time for your employee, and you can do so within the following practical guidelines.  

Let’s start by looking at it from her side 

As a working mother of three girls when I reflect on my experience of starting a family, it was one of the hardest situations I have had to overcome in my working life. It was difficult enough to process the personal mixed emotions I was feeling, in one way delighted that my dream of being a mother was about to come true, but also dealing with the growing fear that I was soon to be responsible for the care of another tiny human. Finding out you are pregnant is overwhelming for so many reasons, not least for the influx of hormones & morning sickness!

I loved my job however, and was good at it, so I knew I wanted it all. I wanted to be a great mother, without it impacting my chance of having a successful career too. The thought of how my employers would react to the news was terrifying, and I waited as long as I could to tell my boss, although inevitably people started to guess by my sudden switch to decaf coffee and flat shoes. I was earning a fortune for the company, and myself, as a recruitment manager and billing consultant, with some excellent high profile clients and in my heart I knew my employers would be disappointed. I predicted they would worry about how I would cope and hold it all together, I had many ideas and plans on how I could make it work though, I knew I wouldn’t let them or my clients down.

Sadly my fears were realised and the reaction was far worse than even I had expected. Despite my insistence that I would only be away for a few months, and would work for as long as I could up until my due date; from the day I announced my pregnancy everything changed. For the next six months I was treated terribly, with my employers all keeping me at an arm’s length. First my team was split out to other sales managers, my responsibilities stripped away and my clients handed over to other consultants. What my employers had failed to realise is that I had never been more financially motivated to support my new family. I planned to work harder than ever to make the time away smooth for both myself and the business; I wanted to bill as much as I could before my leave and have new business prepared and lined up for my return. However despite the drive I had to make it a success, my company just seemed to write me off. Their whole attitude made me feel extremely guilty and embarrassed for having let everyone down. At 8 months pregnant we parted company as I finally decided enough was enough! What should have been exciting and joyful, was in reality the most stressful and upsetting time in my life.

However, like most things in life, with the benefit of hindsight I can see now that this was actually the start of a great chapter. I began to work for myself, set up my business DP Connect and grew an amazing company that was founded on a burning desire to look after my employees correctly. In the long-run the consequences were far worse for my employer, as they lost a fantastic biller and a loyal employee! So, how could it have been different?

The true cost of maternity leave 

While I appreciate that not all women will choose to return to work after childbirth, in my experience from the last 27 years running DP Connect I truly believe that if you treat your female employees correctly at this important time in their life, and they do decide to return, you will be delighted with what they can achieve. Over the years, I was honored to employ some fantastic consultants who had a number of children while working with me, and who remained some of my highest billers, even after moving to part time or working a 4 day week.

So here are my tips:

  1. Be pleased for her and make her feel celebrated at this special time. Always respond first on a human level, then as a boss. After all, who of you that have children don’t think of them as your greatest success in life!
  2. Speak as openly and honestly as you can around a plan, and talk about how you will manage the situation together. Discuss the details, for example how both of you will manage her clients in her absence.
  3. Be open and let her in on your ideas for how you plan to cover the work during her leave.
  4. Sell the opportunities that will be available to her in the future, and where her career can go on her return.

It’s important to think of the long-term investment of your staff, and ask yourself how long does it really take to employ and get a top biller up and running? Six months? Nine months? Well The Telegraph recently reported that the average maternity leave taken by women in the UK is 6 months!

Practical initiatives to support new mothers 

There are a number of initiatives I implemented over the years to help support and encourage employees during this period of their career. For one initiative we assigned or recruited a junior consultant to be mentored by them during their pregnancy, that consultant then covered for them while on maternity leave and we encouraged both consultants with a good commission split scheme. This meant the new mother was still earning commission during her maternity leave, allowing them to continue to make revenue for as long as they could. It also made the return to work process much smoother and kept them connected to the team. We also had a very well promoted flexible working scheme so employees were aware of their return to work flexi options. Most importantly we ensured every new mother was assigned a role-model to advise, support and encourage along the way.

Get it right and it’s a win win situation, but get it wrong and watch your top talent go and work for your competition on their return to the workplace!

Finally a few tips for the employee:

  • Don’t leave it too long to discuss with your employer, you want them to hear it from you and not through the grapevine.
  • Don’t share the news too casually, be sympathetic to how important you are to the business and take it as a compliment that they will be concerned about your plans.
  • If you have ideas on how your role might be covered, or thoughts on what you hope to be involved in and how, share these with your employer.
  • You won’t be able to confirm if you are definitely coming back, and it is illegal for your employer to ask, because the truth is you never know what will happen when your baby arrives and what you ultimately decide might change along the way. However letting your employer know certain steps and plans you already have in place might be useful for you both, for example if you have booked childcare, or if your partner is planning to be the full time parent, there is no harm in sharing if you feel like giving some ballpark ideas.

Most importantly, be open and honest and never apologise as this is a wonderful thing! 

What the recruitment industry currently offers mothers in terms of flexible working initiatives, is one of the important questions covered in our diversity survey. Please take 5 mins to complete and help us make the recruitment industry excel. For great ideas and initiatives on flexible working, and further insights into attracting and retaining exceptional talent in the recruitment industry, be a part of The Recruitment Network, where thought leaders go to share ideas and make real change.

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