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Would You Recruit a “Potential Parent”?

By October 25, 20129 Comments

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.

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Agree JR – what a ridiculous comment! Having children or not having children has nothing to do with attitude, drive, performance and driving outcomes. Like you, I have often witnessed return to work parents actually achieve more. In this day and age, you would think comments like these wouldn’t actually exist. 

  • Patrice says:

    Ridiculous – if you were any good at your job in the first place, you aren’t going to “forget” how to do it after your maternity leave. Plus often return to workers work part-time and work extremely hard to fit 5 days work into 3 or 4.

  • What is often forgotten is the amazing transferable skills that being a parent will bring back into the workforce. I had 10 years at home with my 3 children & during that time upskilled in areas that were attractive to my new employers. Regardless of gender – I agree that drive determination, and attitude are equally as important as hard skills. We can train with a willing open attitude and the icing on the cake is the inbuilt edge that the individual was born with. 

  • Pauline Latta says:

    Agree wholeheartedly with your comments above, and Nicola’s below.  To put this in perspective, child bearing age in reality is 16-40 +.  What a massive gap we would have in our workforce if anyone took any notice of these ill informed comments.  Considering many women choose not to have children (or can’t) or alternatively have Dad as the stay at home parent, the arguement loses any thread of sense. 

  • Adam Napper says:

    I have personally found that having (numerous) children has made me more focused and driven as you know you only have a certain period of time in the office. You don’t fluff around having a coffee, chatting about the All Blacks or Arsenal’s defeat at the weekend – you get to work and you work. Hard. And if you don’t get it done in the office you do it in the evening/morning or whenever. 

    As for working mums, they are generally ‘machines’ who very often will out perform their colleagues because this approach and then some. 

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks for the comments Adam.  I agree wholeheartedly (and sadly can attest to spending many evenings “catching up” after bath time from what I had to leave at 4.30pm).  But let’s leave Arsenal out of this.  That is a far more sensitive subject than this…

  • Jayne says:

    After more than three years out of the workforce I really was concerned that I may have lost my “recruitment mojo” but two weeks in I am back and absolutely loving being a recruiter during the day and a Mum in the evenings and weekends. I totally agree with Adam’s comments, I maximise my output during my time in the office and the time I spend with my family is so much more precious now it is no longer “on tap”. If you had drive, passion, enthusiasm and the desire to succeed prior to having children then you have it multiplied ten times over afterwards, being a Mum is the most full on, busiest, demanding physically and mentally role I have ever held and the most rewarding. As a result my time management skills are great, as are my communication and negotiation skills, I have so much more empathy and patience with people all qualities that I feel have made me an even better recruiter than I was before.

  • Rob says:

    The issue for small businesses especially, is cost. When an employee takes parental leave the employer is left to bear the not insignificant expense of filling a vacancy for the 12 months of unpaid leave the law entitles the employee to.

    It would be useful to have some research figures on the number of women who after 12 months unpaid leave (and the employer having to keep a position available for them all this time), choose then not to return to work. Perhaps there needs to be a financial penalty on the employee for having wasted the employees time for a year, and for having put them to the expense of recruiting and training a “temp”.

    Parents who take unpaid leave and then return to their employer may very well bring new skills and a level of enthusiasm they did not not have before going away to have children, but in so doing they also put their employer to considerable expense, so they have a lot of catching up to do to “repay” the employer anyway.

  • Isabel says:

    Great article! I think it’s definitely a difficult decision. I think I’d hire them as long as they have the skills I’m looking for.