File photo: The report found that the working mothers are often considered for lower-level, more mundane and lower-paid roles than they previously held. Picture: Reuters
File photo: The report found that the working mothers are often considered for lower-level, more mundane and lower-paid roles than they previously held. Picture: Reuters

How moms are battling to break the glass ceiling when returning to work

By Marchelle Abrahams Time of article published Sep 2, 2021

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Women’s Month may have come to an end but that doesn’t mean conversations around gender inequality in the workplace should be put on the back burner.

In fact, major corporations should be at the forefront of rectifying this glaring discrepancy by formulating best practices.

According to the 2010 Harvard Business review, some companies could be losing up to 60% of their female talent due to negative perceptions. And it all comes down to business’ negative view and doubts about the commitment of women who take a career break to be stay-at-home mothers.

The annual Women’s Report, a collaboration between the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) and the SA Board for People Practices, spotlights the battle that mothers face when resuming their careers.

The report found that the working mothers are often considered for lower-level, more mundane and lower-paid roles than they previously held.

“These biases and negative perceptions of hiring managers are not only the greatest obstacle to stay-at-home mothers picking up their former careers, but also place organisations at risk of losing ground on their gender equity goals and potentially falling foul of the Employment Equity Act in which family responsibility is a ground for unfair discrimination,” said Lunga Tukani, USB MBA alumnus and contributor to the 2021 Women’s Report.

The report found that these working mothers are often considered only for lower-level, more mundane and lower-paid roles than they previously held. Picture: Brian Wangenheim/Unsplash

As it stands, women are already under-represented in the South African workplace, making up 51% of the population but accounting for only 44% of total employment in the first quarter of 2021, according to Stats SA.

Tukani further iterated that facing barriers to re-entering the labour market after raising a child, puts women at a further disadvantage and hinders efforts to achieve workplace equality.

“Support for women in the form of laws and policies is ineffective in countering the cultural and social norms that show up in prejudice and perceptions that mothers are less committed and effective employees,” he said.

Taking a deep dive into understanding the impact of possible bias against stay-at-home mothers returning to work, Tukani embarked on a study involving a group of South African line managers responsible for hiring decisions in their teams or departments.

“The findings of this study suggest that managers need to perform honest introspection on biases that cloud their decision-making in the hiring process, and they need to commit to creating a workplace environment and culture that ensures an equitable and representative workforce,” he said.

But there is a way to work around these obstacles, Tukani suggested: “Stay-at-home mothers would do well to apply to organisations that hire for attitude rather than skill. It would also be useful to maintain their skills and networks while taking a career break”.

He also recommended that human resource policies historically developed for male-dominated workplaces need to be revised, to cater for “the complexities of women’s social roles and careers”.

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