It is time for female-specific employment policy to be created by those it impacts – women

This year’s theme is Make It Happen, and was given a very welcome boost on Friday by the announcement from telecoms giant Vodafone that it was introducing a global mandatory maternity pay policy.

The new scheme – 16 weeks fully-paid maternity leave to all its staff across 30 countries and a fully-paid 30-hour week on full pay for six months when new mums return to work  – was said by the company to both retain and recruit staff.

It added that too many of its talented female employees were leaving the firm purely because of the difficult choices they faced between either caring for a newborn baby or maintaining their careers.

They hope the new scheme will help bridge the gap and allow female staff not to worry about financial shortfalls in the first important weeks after a birth, and allow them to return to work again safe in the knowledge that they still had plenty of hours left in the week to be at home and continue bonding with their new arrivals.

Sometimes when we consider the issue of a lack of women in senior leadership roles, and a paucity in the number of young women moving into scientific, technical, engineering or manufacturing roles, we fail to give enough weight to the issue of motherhood.

We hear of new initiatives such as ramping up the number of women on FTSE boards, the possibility of quotas or women-only interviews for certain professions and the need for businesses to be more involved and vocal in their local schools and universities to encourage more women to think about business as a career. 

There is talk of emphasising the success of role models such as Anita Roddick – she did it, you can to.


It’s all well-intentioned stuff, but crucially much of these policies and schemes are the brainchild of men. They are the ones in the vast majority of leadership roles and therefore have the power to craft recruitment or retainment strategies.

But however well-intentioned they are, they don’t feel or think like a woman. It is difficult for them to walk in a woman’s shoes – as it were – and inevitably that means there will be a shortfall in the complexities and depths of the answers and solutions they come up with.

In many ways it is a vicious circle. We have men at the top, we want more women, but it is the ones at the top who devise the ideas and therefore it is small surprise little changes.

Maternity leave is the main stumbling block when women think of their careers. Unlike their male colleagues they know from their early 20’s that at some stage they may decide to start a family with the inevitable stop-start effect that will have on their working lives.

It’s only natural biology – if men were the sex who got pregnant perhaps we would be having debates about the lack of men in senior leadership roles.

Consciously and sub-consciously this has an effect on how employers and indeed male colleagues and rivals for senior positions view women at work.

Not sure? Then why, according to workplace rating website Glassdoor, do four out of five women believe that even asking about maternity policies at an interview would hurt their chances of landing the job?

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Companies and government are failing women by spending so many hours, and putting so much money into, alternative professional or workplace schemes to get more women into business.

Vodafone get it. It says its female staff now no longer have to prevaricate over having to ask about maternity policy, or whether they could have a day off every week to look after their new child. They now know where they stand and how far their company is ready to support them.

Vodafone will be rewarded with retained female talent and no doubt a surge in the number of applications from female graduates or experienced staff from rivals.

Ah, you might think, they are a huge organisation which has the cash and the administrative power to make these changes work. How can I as a small growing business afford and achieve the same?

Vodafone is adamant that these changes will save it and firms of is size around $19bn a year. In its calculations, the amount spent on recruiting and training new staff to replace those women who leave the workplace far outweigh the cost of the extra benefits.

Those mathematics can surely be made to work for a small business as well. They should grab the opportunity to devise similar strategies that could work for them.

Vodafone has realised that you can largely shape your own policy and strategy in Making it Happen and bringing more women into business. Vodafone ensures that it follows the legal mandatory, statutory requirements but has then thought deeply about how it can devise and implement its own improvements.

Just think where else that freedom of thought can take you. How often as a boss do you talk to your female staff about their career hopes and intentions – what are their worries and concerns? What more can you do to help?

Perhaps it won’t be a maternity issue but feelings of unease about speaking up in meetings or putting their point across to colleagues. What help do they need?

What do they think about your recruitment strategies – are they appealing enough for women? Do we have the right roles and the right pay structures?

International Women’s Day is an important part of the calendar but its very existence shows that we are largely failing as a society.

Failing to listen adequately to the needs of half of the planet’s population and give them the opportunities to express themselves and fulfil their potential is dispiriting.

It is also incredibly bad business. There is a deep pool of creative talent being ignored or under-appreciated and we must as individual bosses and firms listen to ensure we come up with the creative and innovative answers to break down those barriers.

Image: Shutterstock

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