The debate over the proposal to extend paid parental leave in New Zealand took an interesting turn this week, with the effect it could have on job seeking and recruitment. Labour MP Sue Moroney is campaigning to have it extended from 14 to 26 weeks and this has elicited a response from an employers lobby group.
Paul Mackay, employment relations manager for Business New Zealand, claimed that international research showed extending paid parental leave could discourage employers from hiring potential parents. Mackay was also reported as saying that:
“they lose their “sharp edge” by taking more time off work.”
This raises several issues for all of us involved in the recruitment industries and hiring process. But firstly, it is hilarious to note that the so-called “international research” included contributions from Godfrey Bloom, a European Parliament MP also attributed with statements such as “No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age.” and “I am here to represent Yorkshire women who always have dinner on the table when you get home.”
Leaving aside the farcical nonsense of relying on research compiled by such an idiot, the comment around losing your edge is really interesting to me. All of us in recruitment have had conversations with clients that have sometimes strayed beyond the boundaries of equal opportunities. Most of us know what a client is referring to when suggesting we present people with a “fresh, youthful, energetic outlook”, or someone with “good cultural fit and clear communication style”. And most of us know to ignore these thinly-veiled discriminatory remarks and continue presenting people who are the best fit for the actual job.
But have any of you experienced reluctance from a client after presenting someone of “potential parent” status? Biologically this is actually a massive pool of people so makes no sense whatsoever. But how about the kiwi couple returning from the UK, aged in their late 20’s or early 30’s, and seeking a return to a “better lifestyle” and a “nicer place to raise children”?
I personally have never experienced this when referring similar candidates to clients for roles in recruitment. Not overtly anyway. And recruitment is an industry where “edge” is needed in spades, internal and agency side. If there are recruitment companies out there who feel these kinds of candidates should be avoided then I’m not aware of them, and don’t recruit for them, but it would be interesting to hear from anyone in our industry who has experienced this, whether as a recruiter presenting candidates, or as a job seeker yourselves.
As for the “edge” side of things, this is nonsense as well. I understand that the hours you need to put into running a successful desk are not always conducive to return-to-work parents. It is a stressful, highly demanding job that can occupy your thoughts well beyond the standard nine to five. But “edge” is something you never lose. You either have it or you don’t. It isn’t something you learn after years in recruitment and lose if you spend too long looking after kids. It can’t be taught. For me, “edge” is a competitive drive, a hunger for success, an innate compulsion to do whatever is required to make a deal happen or fill a role for your hiring manager. One of the best placements I have made this year has been a return to work mother of three who is cramming a busy, pressured, end-to-end recruitment role into three days a week and outperforming many of her colleagues working the full five days.
I also have first hand evidence that the loss of “edge” is a nonsense argument. My own wife Jayne returned to an internal recruitment role two weeks ago after well over three years raising Charlie and Bonnie. Already she has made a major impact, particularly with the Australian hiring managers, who are delighted with the quality of talent she is unearthing and presenting them with. Three years away from recruiting has done nothing to quell her competitiveness, or her “edge”. I don’t think extending parental leave another 12 weeks will have any impact on this whatsoever.
The argument about the cost to the economy is another matter entirely, but please, whatever you do, don’t overlook good talent because of a concern they might soon be trying for children. You’ll hold back your own recruitment team with this approach, and also the full range of talent your clients have access to if you allow them to propagate this mindset.