As a seasoned recruiter specialising in the niche area of return-to-work and working parents, and having worked solely with this candidate demographic for more than eight years, the similar theme is that the juggle to manage career and family is intensely real. What differs greatly, however, is the way in which the recruitment industry and workplaces support working parents.
I recently worked with a senior level candidate who was returning to work after spending five years at home raising her family. There was nothing unusual about this situation as our agency works with candidates returning from parental leave as well as candidates who are currently working, but looking to move to a more flexible position or family friendly employer.
In this case, though, I presented her to two clients within professional services, formally putting her forward for two very similarly structured positions they had available within their respective teams.
I promptly heard from one employer who, like me, was excited by her skillset and experience and they invited her to attend an interview with their firm.
The second employer, after some time, declined via email to progress her application as apparently “she had been out too long”. It was really profound and also disappointing to see such a huge difference in each employer’s assessment of my candidate when the roles she applied for were almost identical.
So in support of working parents, to level the playing field, encourage better decision - making and alleviate unfair or discriminative practices, I would like to offer the following advice to my industry counterparts to consider next time you are assessing a parent for a role:
Leave your unconscious biases out of it
There is no denying the fact unconscious bias towards parents exists in many ways. As recruiters, we need to be aware of our own thought processes, values, stereotypes and assumptions.
Our views can directly influence our assessment and decisions around who to shortlist for a role or consider for a promotion. Whilst these may be unintentional, they are incredibly unfair and can prove detrimental to a parent’s career.
Overlook the gap, not the candidate
Don’t overlook a candidate’s suitability for the role purely based on an employment gap or period of parental leave on their resume. These candidates have been parenting and we should greatly respect and revere the role of a parent in this country as opposed to penalising parents for undertaking the most important role they will ever hold.
With keeping-in-touch programs and resources at our fingertips, many parents remain professionally connected with their industry and up-to-date with changes in technology or legislation whilst on leave. Assuming otherwise would be inequitable.
You don’t lose your skills - you gain more
Consider what skills the candidate has developed through parenthood and how these can be applied to the role.
Time management, planning, multi-tasking, delegation, resilience, effective communication, relationship management, problem solving, critical thinking and negotiation are some of these.
If you can effectively negotiate with a three-year-old, you can negotiate with anyone. Don’t discount or minimise the experience that comes from parenting and how this can translate positively to a business environment.
If in doubt, invite them to interview
If you remain uncertain about the candidate’s ability to effectively perform in the role or transition back into the position after an extended career break, invite them to interview. Structure your interview questions, provide them with the opportunity to showcase their value and then make a more accurate and comprehensive assessment from there.
Be open to flexible working
We hear so many times from our candidates that their employer refused their request for flexibility or were told that they couldn’t return back to their role working part-time hours.
We’ve also heard that they have had interviews with other recruiters only to be told “sorry, we can’t help you because you can’t work full-time”.
Don’t be quick to rule out a candidate because they have a preference to work flexibly or in a part-time capacity. There are incredible benefits to employers who accommodate flexible working across their business including higher productivity, boosted morale, increased loyalty and better retention rates.