By Tony Lysak, CEO at SkillsNow
A recent report from Virgin Media O2 has revealed that the UK’s digital skills gap is costing the British economy £12.8 billion annually. Companies need skilled workers. Without them, they will fail to grow and maintain a competitive edge. But how can companies find and retain the best talent? And how do companies ensure they have the resources, tools and insight to fully exploit every possible resource to create a skilled and talented workforce? According to research, there is a real risk that companies could be missing out on potential talent pools due to lack of insight or even institutional bias.
A critical shortage
As the economy continues to recover from the pandemic, companies place increased value on skilled talent that can help digitise – and therefore optimise – operations. This has always been a highly competitive talent pool: these workers deliver transformational impact on a business so naturally they are highly prized and come at a cost.
Recently this labour shortage has worsened. The “Great Resignation” was a term coined by Anthony Klotz, a professor of management at University College London’s School of Management, in May 2021, when he predicted a sustained mass exodus from the labour market of skilled workers.
The causes were a combination of wage stagnation, job dissatisfaction, concerns over safety in the workplace caused by the COVID pandemic and an ageing population. This equates to millions less people in global labour market, with healthcare, customer support, data science and technology being the most impacted by the shortage.
Desperately seeking talent
Employers are doing what they can to hire, train and retain the best talent. This has historically been a labour-intensive task itself, but with more urgency to recruit and less time to devote to the process, employers are increasingly looking to automate the process. This saves time but can come at a cost in terms of finding hidden gems in the labour market.
To help streamline the process of finding and hiring talent, companies have enlisted automated solutions, such as CV scanners, that weed out applications that do not meet role requirements. Because these systems are designed with efficiency in mind, they often exclude candidates based on certain factors, such as gaps in employment. This crop of untapped talent, known as “hidden workers”, has been estimated at around 27 million, according to a report from Harvard Business School and Accenture.
One of the groups falling into this category are mums who have left employment to have children but are then seeking to return. This is a highly talented but often misunderstood group of skilled and accomplished talent.
A survey of 520 working mums commissioned by SkillsNow found that 42 percent had been a victim of discrimination by their employer, simply for being a working mum. Additionally, more than 25 percent said they left employment after having a baby due to a lack of support from their employer. A host of capable candidates could potentially be overlooked or discarded by companies due to false perceptions and ingrained practices that influence both manual and automated hiring processes.
Women make up roughly half of the workforce – and many of these women are already working mums or will become working mums in the future. What is often forgotten is the skills that come with being a parent. 55 percent of those surveyed said they are more resilient, 60 percent more patient, 43 percent more confident, 47 percent more productive, and 39 percent more agile since becoming a mother. These are all important skills for the 21st Century workplace.
Instead of seeing the potential value working mums can bring, there has been a perceived issue that working mums should take jobs that allow them to parent effectively, rather than taking jobs that fully utilise their skillset. This is reflected in the survey, with, more than 46 percent of women admitting they have skills going to waste in their current role.
Here is therefore a pool of talent – which has only grown in character and experience since becoming a parent – often ready, willing, and able to be utilised but currently side-lined by prospective employers. So, why are businesses not hiring them?
A series of research papers, published separately in Demography and reported by Sara Savat-Wustl for Futurity, argued that inflexible scheduled and biased hiring practices, combined with gendered cultural norms around breadwinning and caregiving, led to discrimination against mothers and perpetuate existing gender inequalities in the workplace. In short, working mothers are faced with an impossible standard of being expected to work as if they are not a parent, while raising children as if they do not work.
To address these gender inequalities in the workplace, employers can look to foster a more inclusive company culture that considers the needs of working mums. Critical is offering flexible or hybrid working hours allowing mums to meet the demands of their full-time job and parenting duties.
This was borne out in the survey. When asked what is needed to be employed as a working mum, 61 percent of those surveyed said flexible working hours, 33 percent said the ability to work from home, and 37 percent said a hybrid model allowing them to work from home and the office. By providing flexible working in terms of hours, location, training, and development, many feel they would be able to (and would like to) progress to the next step in their career.
Another old-fashioned view is that women fall behind in their career when they take time off to have a baby. But results from the survey show that two out of three women have expressed a desire for more training and development programmes following parental leave. In the digital age, where training resources are available at our fingertips, companies can provide working mums with an online curriculum that allows them to maintain their existing skillset and expand it – even when they are parenting. Despite this, 39 percent were not being offered the skills development that they needed, while 14 percent were being offered training that does not fit around their life as a mum.
Although companies are becoming more progressive, a small portion (16 percent) of working mums feel they cannot discuss their needs with their boss, even though the majority feel trusted in the workplace. Given that 37 percent of women reported a mental health condition after becoming a parent, leadership needs to maintain an open line of communication to ensure working mums feel their voices are heard and issues addressed. Failure to foster such an environment may lead to them either suffering in silence or simply leaving the organisation.
After becoming a parent many mums feel that their performance and job satisfaction at work increases, given the right working conditions. Companies that build a structure supporting working mums will likely be repaid with more effective employees.
The importance of inclusivity
By fostering a culture of inclusivity, companies benefit from increased staff retention rates and diverse perspectives. Insights, solutions, and opportunities that may have been previously missed can be exploited. In purely business terms, a workforce that is more reflective of society is likely to enable a business to exploit unseen opportunities.
Many of the traits that great mothers cultivate and practice every day can also be leveraged in the workplace to lead teams. Whether it is balancing competing needs, embracing unknown territory, or being empathetic, organisations can profit from the experience that comes with being a mum.
When a woman comes back to work after having a baby, new ways of working are needed. If more companies acknowledge and adapting ways of working to accommodate this, then more mothers will feel empowered to take themselves – and their business – to the next level.
A helping hand from technology
So, how can companies hire, train, and develop working mums effectively? SkillsNow has built a HR Software-as-as-Service (SaaS) platform to address these challenges and more. Applying its 20 years’ expertise, insight, and unique methodologies and techniques, the SkillsNow platform allows businesses to recruit and retain the best talent quickly and easily.
With hybrid and remote-working and learning at its core, the platform is fully configurable with modules designed to optimise the creation and management of digital talent, enabling organisations to onboard new employees, and provide training and Continuous Professional Development (CDP) in relevant skills to existing employees. This results in reduced risk and cost to employers, while improving employee satisfaction and retention – a win-win for employers worried about the talent shortage and working mums concerned about the future of their careers.
Tony Lysak is CEO of SkillsNow and Chairman of The Software Institute. Tony has been working in the software industry since 1994, specialising in software development, software consulting, product development, enterprise integration, client-side advisory, procurement, licensing, and sales. He has also consulted for central governments, defence, banking, telecommunications, media, pharmaceuticals and more.
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