Working in various HR roles for over 15 years I always found it astonishing to hear hiring managers say, “Oh I wonder if she has finished having kids yet?”, “I heard she has been married for three years, she’ll probably start having babies soon” and many other variations of the same thing. It’s really such a narrow-minded way to look at hiring prospects – we might as well rule out all of the female candidates before we start the interview process right….?
A Princeton University social sciences article explained that mothers were stereotyped into one of two subtypes: mothers that stayed at home were perceived to have more warmth but were perceived as incompetent, and working mothers were perceived as competent but cold.
Wait what?! Hang on, it gets better, the study also found that working women who became mothers were perceived to trade their competence for warmth (uh-ha!) and even more interestingly, the study found that working men who became fathers, gained perceived warmth and maintained their perceived confidence. Wow, any unconscious biases and prejudices going on here?
My only hope for all of us is that this particular research was conducted back in 2004 – but truth be told, I don’t think society and hiring culture in the workplaces have shifted entirely away from this (well not unconsciously anyway). But is there a silver lining?
Forget about glass ceilings that women are supposed to be smashing – have you heard of the concept of the “maternal wall”? It’s what mothers face in the workforce when seeking new roles or reentry. How about the perception that a childless woman that is away from the office is attending an external business meeting, whilst working mothers who are away from their desks are at home caring for sick children? I’m starting to get very hot under my proverbial collar and all of this research is really getting me quite wound up.
So let’s flip this on its head. The reality is unconscious biases exists, this we must just acknowledge and accept of the past – but this is where it needs to end. The Australian workforce has four very distinct generations that coexist together. The exciting news is that the Generation Y is now the largest population in Australia – that is people aged between 25-34.
So, whilst women, and even more so our favourite subsection of women – mothers, have felt and have experienced first hand unconscious and conscious biases, negative stereotypes and prejudices previously, I feel really strongly that the times for significant changes are right now.