STV Broadcast

Should your boss’ schedule affect your reproduction? Half of bosses think it should…

Nearly two thirds of bosses think female candidates should have to tell prospective bosses if they are pregnant. And a third felt they should be able to ask prospective candidates about her future plans for family, both according to the damning report by the EHRC of over 1100 senior business leaders in the private sector. While it’s been illegal for employers to ask for decades, clearly they do ask or at least think they should be entitled to do so. I was recently on STV talking about these dismal EHRC survey results, which are shocking given 70% of UK women are in paid employment. In Scotland we’ve had a falling birth rate since 2008. Clearly our need for women to both have children and work are not changing anytime soon.

However, it’s clear from the findings, many business leaders see pregnancy as a nuisance they don’t want to pay for and can’t plan around. In fact, just because a women may have pregnancy plans doesn’t mean they will happen. The medical journal, The Lancet, showed that only just over half of all pregnancies were actively planned– the rest were unplanned or left the woman feeling ambivalent. So asking women about their ‘plans’ may be a moot point in any case! The truth is, unexpected events happen in the workplace all the time, and we work around them. When asked if such a line of questioning should be allowed, I argued:

‘Sure, let’s ask women about their child-rearing plans, providing we ask everyone about whether they have older relatives or dependents who may ever need their help, if they have mental health problems, addiction issues or perhaps a pesky health problem that is yet undiagnosed’.

Or perhaps they play sports, routinely leave work for practice, matches and tours (for which they are often regarded as a well-rounded hero) but might get injured which could put them out of commission. And that’s all before we hope they don’t get hit by a bus… That would be a nuisance for employers indeed, but all of the above happens and can create as much ‘disruption’ as hiring a working mother or even a woman who intends to become one. Disruption in the new normal and something we talk about in ‘Keeping Good People Longer’ presentation.

Asking such personal questions that are often completely worthless is a non-starter. You are essentially asking a candidate to predict the future – something not even the best applicant could ever do. The truth is that hiring is always a risk – and no one knows what responsibilities, goals and choices may be looming on the horizon. Actually, in our experience most women are more concerned about maintaining their career post pregnancy than they are looking to ‘take advantage’ of an innocent employer.

However, the bigger risk is in ruling out the best candidate simply because she has children or may at some point, in order to favour someone you assume would never have those responsibilities. Employers should remember, that when you start asking about childcare and reproduction, you send a message to a candidate that you’re old school and would favour an average worker who could give impossible guarantees about their ‘commitment’ over the best candidate who will make the most of the time he or she is actually on the job.

If you want to talk about the future with a candidate, use your precious time to use evidence-based questions on what they’d do for your company based on what they’ve actually done before, rather than wasting time speculating on whether or not they’ll ever need flexibility or god forbid, have a child.

Subscribe to get the latest news and tips on gender in the workplace


What’s the upside to ‘under-confidence’?

A few weeks ago I worked with a group of senior managers on their picks for promotion. It was striking how frequently people used the excuse that a candidate ‘just needs a bit more confidence’ when barring someone from the next level – even when the evidence was that they did their job well. In the decision-makers minds, this stems from the belief that if the person somehow displays more outward confidence, surely then, they are ‘promotion ready’. However, it’s based on a falsehood that the outwardly confident are most worthy people of the next step ‘up’.

However, if you agree with the basic premise that people who are uber-confident versus those who second guess themselves (the under-confident), actually have the same number of good ideas – then it’s a falsehood at best, and dangerous at worst to promote a disproportionately high number of the uber-confident. The modern workplace loves the idea of the bold leader, the one always certain of the next step – the ‘salesperson’ one who can inspire followers. However, when taken to its extreme, it also explains the appeal of Donald Trump or other world leaders who don’t question themselves before moving down a potentially dangerous path. We now value confidence above competence. In the 21st century, we question the ‘gold standard of confidence’ if we want to avoid blindly following the confident off a potential cliff.

If you’re someone who recruits and promotes, ask yourself – When have you met someone who over-sold via their confidence but under-delivered? And when have you been pleasantly surprised by someone who had less confidence but over-delivered? What’s the risk to us all if we keep treating confidence as a gold standard?

Unconscious Bias Game

Workplace sexual harassment linked to depression

As we’ve seen with the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns sexual harassment on the job is always difficult, but it turns out that for women, it’s impact depends on how they know their ‘sex pest’. Women harassed by colleagues were far more likely to suffer from clinical depression than those harassed by clients or customers. A Danish study of 7600 employees from 1041 organisations, and reported in the Times found women harassed by colleagues (supervisors, peers or subordinates) had significantly higher risk of clinical depression.

Interestingly, when looking at the short article online, the comments box suggested male readers didn’t think this was newsworthy at all – just poor reporting and a self-selecting sample. Objection seemed to question the causal nature of this correlation between harassment and depression. This begs the question, ‘Is it any safer to harass a woman who is already depressed?’ The logical extension of that is that if you can prove your ill treatment didn’t cause her depression, she was already depressed – you are blameless. Instead, this should be a stark reminder to employers harassment complaints are worth investigating – particularly if they are from inside the organisation. Mental health issues, bullying and sexual harassment issues can cost employers both reputationally and on their bottom line. I’ve heard clients say that when they’ve told bosses about sexual harassment before, they’ve been dismissively brushed off with ‘it’s all in your head’. Well turns out, that’s indeed where it ends up if not handled.