Lure Moms To Work

By: Toby Marshall

With its recently released budget, the federal government could have done so much more to create better flexible work conditions that cater to senior executives who become mothers. This is in an environment where we have a 'supposed' national skills shortage - 'supposed' because there are large pools of talent that have historically been unforgivably excluded, such as mothers.

A little background

It's a fact: professional women are having children later. Typically, female employees have eight to 15 years of post-graduate experience, are highly skilled and can often multi-task better than men. But there is not enough quality professional work available to women for them to work part-time with any degree of flexibility.

Just saying there are not enough jobs doesn't give you any real feeling for the full extent of the problem. Just go to any playgroup or primary school where the mums gather, and listen to the conversations. For them, the dearth of good part-time work is a painful reality.

At my recruiting firm, we become aware of this whenever we advertise for part-time staff for our clients and are specifically targeting the 'Mum' market. We have to use tricks to discourage all the other applicants whom we don't want. And why don't we want people other than mums? Because they often don't have a good reason to work part time for the next five years, which is usually what our clients require.

What happens with these sorts of ads is the opposite of almost every other category: We get swamped with good applicants. Recently, we advertised for a part-time office manager/personal assistant for ourselves and had to remove the online ad after just three days. We then had the task of selecting among a very quality field, including many who were grossly overqualified (including women with MBAs who had held down very senior jobs). In this candidate-scarce market, it's a good position to be in.

For a full time person of the calibre we were seeking, we would have had to advertise for at least a month, possibly two, and still no guarantee of quality.

The feds: what the budget got right, and what it got wrong

The budget did provide some degree of financial incentives for women but they were very much "means" tested. The government also lifted some restrictions on child care, making it easier for Mum and Dad to go to work. The real issue, however, is that this does nothing to stop the 'brain drain' of senior professional women from organizations. As a specialist recruiter, I witness so many professional women leaving jobs to have babies, but later. These employees have rapidly climbed the corporate ladder, and just when they are contributing the most and becoming key players in an organization ... they take maternity leave. Lack of qualification for financial assistance coupled with inflexibility in executive work arrangements leave little motivation for these professional women to then return to the workforce.

But there is light at the end of this otherwise gloomy tunnel. Leading organizations in the accounting, consulting and finance industries are becoming more creative with their retention programs, though these very initiatives are still embryonic. New flexible work schemes are of particular interest to professional females because they are more likely to leave high-paying jobs outright to raise children.

It would be difficult to disagree that the federal government's initiative of allowing mothers returning to work to have their out-of-pocket child care expenses covered was not a small step in the right direction. However, the effective tax rates remain very high for most women entering the workforce, due to the lack of political will (on both sides of politics) to address our absurdly complex tax system.

What we need for executives who are also mothers is more flexible work arrangements. Many professional women who are mothers are electing to return to lesser paying jobs or lower level part-time jobs in order to obtain the work flexibility required.

One area to be addressed is job sharing among women with children. When you read about the challenges women face to bring this about, you realize it is the perfect area where governments at all levels could help at very low cost.

For example, the government could launch very cheaply a website to provide information on the real costs of replacing executives - which is well over 100% of their annual salary. Stubborn bosses who remain lukewarm to the notion of workplace flexibility will find these numbers a real eye opener. (To see a spreadsheet that you can use for your own organization, go to www.abacusrecruit.com.au, click on Your Job Resources, and then click on the Abacus True Cost Model).

Another way to encourage job sharing among women in the corporate world would be for government departments to set a good example themselves, by retaining their own high-energy and committed women who are determined to keep their careers alive and prove that their organization was right to give them a go. To do this, the government could actively hire more part-time women for project work (not job share). Just dabbling with child care is not going to solve this appalling waste of resources.

Another tactic is to bolster financial assistance to major corporations to encourage them to build childcare facilities within the workforce. I am aware of a number of organizations that have posh corporate cafeterias and gymnasiums but few on-site child-care facilities.

Job sharing and good part-time work are not about creating a feel-good atmosphere. They are potentially a major part of the solution to the talent scarcity that many organizations currently face. The market will eventually solve the talent shortage. It just would have been great if Mr. Costello could have sped it up a bit.

Toby has worked for nearly 20 years in recruitment. His focus is on creative recruitment to solve his client's employment problems, and on reducing their risk of recruiting the wrong employee. His formal studies were in economics, and he has an MBA from a top 50 international business school.

In 2005 he published the Amazon best seller, Get Great People - a practical guide on how to recruit employees and the whole topic of Recruitment and Selection. Toby is an active speaker on the international conference circuit. He speaks on Recruitment and Selection; The Changing World of Employment - How to Recruit; and The Great Staff Scarcity Myth.

In early 2007 he created The Ultimate Recruitment Kit for companies - the ultimate creative recruitment guide. His mission: To give all companies, no matter how few employees they have, the information and expert help they need to do their own recruitment and selection and find great new staff. If you like what you have read so far, you can get more information and resources at

If you are in Australia and are interested in Recruitment Services and help with particular recruitment and selection problems, you can go to Abacus Recruitment Solutions at



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