Could COVID-19 help curb the gender leak?

This time of business unusual could present an incredible opportunity for women, says Phillipa Geard, founder and CEO of RecruitMyMom. The award-winning South African entrepreneur believes the global move to remote working could play a pivotal role in combating the ‘gender leak’ – the loss of women from the workplace during child-rearing years.

“The ability to work more flexibly and remotely is a powerful combination. It could help to curb the gender leak, allowing for more equal progression into senior roles. Right now, many women leave the workforce just as their careers are taking off, while men continue to advance to leadership roles. This creates gender disparity at the top. The impact of COVID-19 could see businesses get better at retaining female talent, leading to more diversity at the leadership level. Research also shows this change benefits businesses’ bottom-lines.”

Geard is well-qualified to comment on this topic. This mom of two founded recruiting agency RecruitMyMom in 2012 to provide opportunities for skilled mothers driven out the workplace by inflexible work practices. She aimed to find a way to stop the gender and skills leak. She identified remote working as a solution early on, and now the pandemic has finally accelerated the adoption of an agenda she has been pushing for eight years.

The 2019 winner of the Santam Women of the Future competition has had a tough time during the lockdown. The year 2019 was RecruitMyMom’s best fiscal year to date, but the economic impact of the pandemic has inevitably seen a significant drop in businesses hiring new recruits. Geard went from a full job book to next to no job book in a week. Initially, she froze; and then she realised her clients would be in a similar position.

So, she refocused her business to educate and inspire clients to make the move towards remote working. “As a result of lockdown, this way of working had leapfrogged to the fore. We’ve focused on being an information facilitator, helping our clients to seamlessly adjust to having a team out of the office. We’ve always said it’s about productivity, not presence. It’s amazing how quickly the world is now adapting to this idea.”

She says business picked up in May 2020 with some global interest, as organisations around the world recognise the benefits of remote skills and an advantageous exchange rate. This is excellent news for the almost 100 000 skilled mothers (and other career-flex workers) on Geard’s books. Going forward, these talented individuals and other women around the world may find it easier than ever before to land permanent or contractual work on remote teams. “It would be incredible if this crisis ultimately translates into more jobs for women. Another thing we’ve seen is the need for empathetic leadership over this period. Women often excel in softer skills like communication, creativity, collaboration, high conscientiousness and organisational capabilities – many of the traits remote teams need.”

She adds that many global businesses are positively progressive when it comes to supporting female talent. “Organisations like Procter & Gamble, for example, give women the option of a two-year career break, with the guarantee they can come back at the same level at which they left. Hopefully, we’ll begin to see more of this as employers realise the benefits of empowering their employees with choices that inspire loyalty and hard work.”

Alongside remote work and flexibility, Geard also supports looking at benefits – like medical aid, for example – along with fair maternity policies and clear KPIs. Much of her perspective comes down to “fixing” the antiquated notion that a person needs to sit at a desk for eight hours to receive traditional employee benefits. “Employers should ensure their requirements are based on outputs against deliverables rather than time spent at a desk. Again, productivity, not presence, counts.”

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