- Managers tend to believe that women who take longer maternity leaves will be less committed to their jobs and have little promise for leadership roles, according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. When managers participating in the experiment received applications showing a woman who had taken a maternity leave of 12 months, as opposed to other applications signaling a leave of just one month, the applicant was less desirable. This opinion was held not only by male participants in the study, but also by female managers as well.
- In the second stage of the experiment, managers received applications accompanied by a letter of recommendation. When a woman's application included affirmation about her dedication from a former boss, any bias associated with the length of her maternity leave disappeared.
- The report also included work on "keep-in-touch" programs. Women who took year-long maternity leaves were still perceived as hireable when they participated in such a program, the study said. By signing up for a "keep-in-touch" program, leave-takers work with a coworker who helps them stay up-to-date with their assignments, clients and fellow employees.
As employers work to redefine the workplace after the #MeToo movement and diversify their staff from its leadership to its rank and file employees, one goal has emerged with clarity: companies want to hire more women. In a Scout Exchange study published in March, 80% of recruiters surveyed said they saw an increase in the number of requests for female executives, as reported by the Boston Globe. In adding more women to their pay rolls, leaders have been prompted to address pay gaps and other biased practices they may have never considered before, like company lactation policies. And this study points out another area where leaders, even women leaders, may need to root out discrimination: maternity leave.
This eradication of bias will not occur naturally. Hiring managers will need training to know how they can edit out bias when they address maternity leave and a long list of other topics that arise when more women enter the workplace. Anti-bias training can be extended to the entire office, too. As a business vets its people to be more inclusive, it should also assess how its procedures measure up, especially when it comes to recruiting.
The study points out another interesting trend surrounding maternity leave. As more employers adopt or expand paid parental leave benefits, they may consider strategies to help parents prepare for their return to work. Workers at PwC said they wanted help preparing for their return to work after a parental leave and the company responded by offering a phased return-to-work program that allows new parents, both mothers and fathers, to work 60% of their schedule at 100% of their pay for four weeks after returning to work. Allowing parents some extra time with their children without sacrificing pay can help ease parental anxiety about having to choose between family and career commitments.