Keep in touch to keep your talent

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Women are confident, ambitious and actively pursuing their career goals. Leaders should focus on creating an environment where women – and men – can have open conversations, and where there is clarity on what it takes to progress.

This will benefit everyone and will lead to better results overall. This greater transparency is however just one piece of the puzzle, additional actions are needed to drive change. It must go hand in hand with efforts to mitigate any unconscious biases and gender stereotypes that have traditionally impacted career success and progression in workplaces around the world

- Robert E. Moritz, Global Chairman, PWC

Many workplaces assume that when you have a baby, two things are inevitable: firstly, you will fall so in love with that baby that you will lose all your career ambition, and secondly, you’ll also lose your confidence.

As for the idea that women become unambitious after having children, there are mountains of research that shows that this is a myth. In fact, studies show that ambition is influenced by company culture more than a woman’s desire to have a family.

While many managers assume that mums do not seek career advancement because of their new family, it is more common that they are forced to settle because they lack the support or encouragement from their employers to continue to advance their careers. No wonder PWC's research shows that 42 per cent of women felt nervous about the impact children might have on their careers, 48 per cent said they were overlooked for career advancement because they had children and 37 per cent did not take full maternity leave because of career pressure. 

Its bias - conscious, unconscious & systematic - that cause working mums to lose their confidence. Which is why recent research from RMIT showing that keeping in touch can help address some of those biases is welcome. 

The Research

RMIT recently released research that asked 558 Australian and Canadian employers to rate their willingness to hire women on maternity leave, who both had and had not used a program connecting them to their workplace.

The results showed that job commitment and employability were highest when the candidate had used a keeping in touch program while on leave.

Why? Because the bias held by people leaders and recruiters is that unless parental leavers are proactively keeping in touch, they must have lost your ambition.

So not only is keeping in touch good for an individual's personal brand but as it mitigates the potential biases of their stakeholders and ensures they remain considered for career opportunities, it reduces the likelihood of them losing their confidence.  

Keeping in touch is about workplace responsibility too

Of course, its not a lack of keeping in touch on an individual’s part that sees them lose their confidence; its the feeling of being invisible, of being part of an “out group” and no longer belonging, that causes women to lose their confidence.

Which is why workplaces need to focus on the systemic biases that exist, which, when interrogated for bias, can make their parental leavers visible. 

For example, when we launched our digital platform just over three years ago, we found that many IT policies were set up to permanently disconnect your email if you hadn’t logged in for three months, the default assumption being that you had permanently left your workplace. This meant that women and men on parental leave often lost one of the most important tools in a modern workplace when they did decide to return to work.

Similarly, very few workplaces had systems in place that allowed for out-of-cycle performance reviews or promotions, so many parental leavers were experiencing a gender pay penalty for taking parental leave.

Take Woolworths, for example. With the pace of change in business, many on parental leave are likely to return to a different manager. To help address this, we, for example, are working with Woolworths' remuneration and benefits team to ensure that no person feels invisible while on parental leave.

At Melbourne Water, we work with them to ensure team members are able to stay up-to-date with what’s important in the business, introducing, for example, events for parents on parental leave to reconnect with their workplace - a day that is also paid, as it constitutes a keeping in touch day under the Fair Work Act.

And with many of our coaching clients, we also include a coaching session with their people leader, to ensure they understand their responsibilities for keeping in touch, sponsoring, and consciously including employees while they are on parental leave. 

Are you keeping in touch?