“You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.” - Mary Beard, Women & Power: A Manifesto
I started my recruitment career in 2014 just a few months after getting married to my childhood sweetheart; romantic, I know. I still remember when I reached the final interview stage, I was given advice from a male soon-to-be colleague telling me; “Tell them you are focused on your career and not planning on having kids any time soon”. Apparently, I was at risk of being pregnant on the job; Oh, the horror!
Luckily my husband and I didn’t want to have children yet and we did want to focus on our careers, but I think sub-consciously due to my colleagues “advice”, the fear was created in me. If I were to have children, I won’t have a career. This, I am sad to say, appears to be as common now as it was five years ago, especially in male dominated sectors like recruitment.
Many recruitment agencies don’t have a maternity policy and the ones that do tend to follow the structures laid down by the official Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) policy. The strictures of this official policy are such it is safe to say it doesn’t reflect the value, hours and commitment that recruitment consultants give to their employers. The lack of flexibility and empathy from many, but not all, in management makes it difficult for female recruiters to think about having a family and still work.
Let me give you a real life example. It was my second day back to work from being on maternity leave for just over four months and my manager gave me the opportunity to go to London to meet a client he had signed (thrown right into the deep end but loved it). My taxi to Glasgow airport was interesting. My female taxi driver was a “top biller” back in the day and was at the peak of her recruitment career when she decided to have her first child. She was given SMP and told her clients and desk would be given to someone else in her absence and when she returned, she would need to start afresh. When she re-joined her team, she wasn’t given any flexibility nor any support from her management which eventually meant she had to leave to care for her family. The sad reality is that many agencies are willing to lose top female talent to avoid having to accommodate their maternity leave.
Her story made me appreciate the SceneOne management team and how supportive they have been to me and my baby girl, who was born this year. Especially because this was all new to them. They didn’t have a maternity policy as they hadn’t had a full-time pregnant employee before. This new challenge for them and for me was met with integrity, empathy and positivity. Sceneone & St. Vincent's Consulting didn’t disappoint and offered me one of the best maternity policy packages I could ask for. Indeed, my research revealed it would give FTSE100 companies a run for their money! Even whilst on maternity leave my manager, Allan Carlin, stayed in touch giving me up to date information on internal changes as well as client updates. This gave me job security which most women fear losing when they decide to have a family.
Our CEO, Paul Tonner, once said to me, “if you look after the businesses best interests we will look after you”. That is exactly what he did and more. That kind of mutual respect is incredible and really brings out the best in me.
So, the message is clear. It makes more sense socially, ethically and indeed commercially, to treat women wanting a family with greater consideration and respect. If women were a valued, productive and trustworthy part of a business before they had children, I can assure you this will remain the case afterwards. My own experience is testament to this. And for those who fail to heed that advice and treat pregnancy and childbirth as some sort of inconvenience, then I have only one word for you; “Taxi!”