Sep 24, 2020

How Maternity Leave Impacts The Hiring Of Women

Kristin Kerr

t's been said that women are more expensive to employ than men when considering the factor of maternity leave within the hiring process. Since men obviously cannot produce children, the hiring process of men doesn't have to take into consideration maternity leave. However, when it comes to hiring women, are workplaces simply bias towards hiring men over women because of maternity leave or is there more to it?

Many industries and positions are gender dominated. For example, most nurses happen to be female, while most bricklayers happen to be male. When it comes to industries that aren't gender dominated however, there seems to be some discrepancy when it comes to hiring men over women for the same work.

Business vs. Ethics

Many businesses are focused on solely maximizing profit, this means working as efficiently as humanly possible turning a business into a money making machine where the humanity of the employees often comes second, or even third. These sort of employers would ideally hire a fleet of robots working 24/7 to capture absolute effort and maximum profits.

However, in the real world, where employers have to hire actual human beings, companies can still often chase the ideal and search for suitable candidates who have the potential to work as much as possible with little to no outside factors that could inhibit their ability to work and deliver results (profit). Employers want a work force that can always deliver results without the possibility of a scenario like maternity leave where an employee would retain their employed status, and pay (partial), without the responsibilities of deliverables. Since that possibility exists for women in the form of maternity leave and not men, logic would dictate an employer choosing a man over a women for the sake of profit.

The ethical dilemma here then becomes apparent. A potential employees value at a job no longer hinges on their actual ability to work and do their job effectively but on their gender. This is the real issue. In a scenario where employers choose profit over a person's ability, male or female, they are entering ugly ethical territory.

The potential for certain biological circumstances (and life choices) should not be a part of the hiring process whatsoever and is a point most people could agree on. Following the same logic, would it be ethical for an employer to not hire people who can't run a certain speed? Or have a certain eye color?

Diving into the Differences

A recent study in Spain sent resumes of adults between the ages of 37 to 39 years old for 1,372 real job postings located in Madrid and Barcelona. Out of over 5,600 resumes sent out male candidates received an interview call in higher proportion to that of females, 10.9% and 7.7% respectively. While it's unknown how much the dynamic of maternity leave weighed on the hiring process directly, it still shows there is a noticeable difference between male and female hires.


The Parenthood Factor

The study also revealed that the likelihood of receiving a call for an interview was 23.5% lower for women without children than for men with the same circumstances, and that women who already have children are on average 35.9% less likely to be called for a job interview than males who have children.

How Bias Gets The Best of Us

Another study out of Harvard Business School sites biases within the hiring process based on those who are doing the hiring. Researchers were able to find what they call "in-group" favoritism and "out-group" bias. This means that employers were more willing to hire an individual from a lower-performing group of people if the employer shared the same gender, or even the same birth month. It's clear that our biases go deeper than we think.

Employers are missing a chance to give worthy candidates jobs because of their biases, for both males and females. However, as we become more aware of our biases as a society, we can work towards minimizing those missed opportunities.

"Employers that do this are not only breaking the law but being incredibly stupid as they are missing out on many of the country's brightest young workers." - Frances O'Grady, the general secretary of TUC

The Future of Hiring

This dilemma begs the question of what an ideal hiring process would look like, one that could be used anywhere for any position. While the answer may not be an immediate one, there are certainly ideas of what could make the process better. Hiring candidates without knowing their gender could be a start, basing candidates on solely on qualifications and experience.

Recognizing that there is a problem is the first step in fixing the problem. As the issue of gender in the hiring process gains more awareness we can only hope that things change for the better.

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