Disclaimer: Today I have my Human Resources hat on, as well as my ranty-pants soapbox hat. Go easy on me, won’t you? I’m just a girl, standing in front of a recruiter, asking them to CONSIDER ME FOR A JOB.
When I look through Seek, religiously, every morning, filtering on Melbourne-based HR & Recruitment jobs, I can’t help but think I’m thoroughly screwed.
I realise it’s early in the year and the market is slow. I also understand Seek is not the only resource for job seekers – companies are using a whole raft of job advertising engines/word of mouth/social media to find the perfect recruit. LinkedIn is my new best friend and I find the quality of the jobs better there, but the story is still the same. Part-time work offerings are woeful. I did a quick statistic, only because it involved a spreadsheet and a formula and I LOVE those (don’t laugh, I do. Step back). Last week in Melbourne, of all the Human Resources jobs advertised on Seek, only 3% of them on average were part-time. 3%!
When I took a package from my previous employer last year I thought the heave-ho was laced with a silver lining. I no longer wanted to work there. The culture had disintegrated to the point where it wasn’t the company I’d joined 8 years ago. But they were pioneers in walking the walk in terms of flexibility. Now, the reality of securing a part-time job in my industry is not looking good. I’m an experienced (and did I mention sh*t hot?) Human Resources Consultant and THERE ARE NO JOBS FOR ME.
Now the government’s 2010 Fair Work Act has gone part of the way to addressing flexibility in the workforce. It gives parents of pre-school aged kids the right to request part-time flexible working arrangements but it also gives companies the right to refuse the request on business grounds (which I think is important). Julia Gillard announced yesterday that the Labor government intends to extend this clause of the Act to parents of school-age children and also provide protection for parents from sudden changes in rostering hours. But the problem with lack of part-time positions (and other flexibility options) is not what is in government legislation, but the engendered culture at the organisational level of putting part-time or return to work parents in the too-hard basket, like a bunch of slightly out-of-date eggs.
Part-time work in particular has grown exponentially since the 1960s so one would assume that the stigma around it has decreased. And yet, in spite of this upward trend, a 2011 Regus Working Mothers study, which surveyed 214 organisations, revealed that 57% of organisations were planning to hire in the next two years, however only 41% of them were planning on recruiting working mothers amid concerns about their suitability in the workforce, compared to 55% in 2010. Furthermore, 30% of respondents held concerns about women returning to work not being flexible or committed enough to the organisation. So there appears to be a backlash against part-time parents at the recruitment level (as opposed to parents already employed within an organisation).
The flexibility clause in the Fair Work legislation applies only to employees returning to the same workplace. For parents like me who are looking for a brand new organisation to join, there is NOTHING. Oh sure, there is the Discrimination Act forbidding a company from discriminating based on caregiving or family status, but I would like to know how one proves that this is happening at the recruitment level. I don’t even know how you could legislate a better deal for new recruits. And if you could legislate for it, I doubt you could “police” it.
This is not to say that there aren’t organisations out there who offer flexibility as part of a sustainable business model. But the paradox here is that flexibility is a powerful retention tool, so employees currently in part-time positions are not vacating roles because they understand how good they have it. It’s all just a bit of a cr*p groundhog day for an unemployed, sh*t hot HR Consultant who wants to work part-time because she wants to see her family occasionally.
I’ve considered full-time roles that have been advertised, and have approached the recruiter to ask whether the client would consider job-share, part-time or compressed working week, but the response has been “probably not” followed by eerie radio silence. I’ve been told by recruiters to forget about 3-day per week jobs and that even 4-days was stretching a friendship. Look, I appreciate the honest reflection of what is going on in the trenches but come on, how hard is it to consider a part-time arrangement if a candidate is otherwise a fit for the job? I’m not saying I’m perfect for every position but I do feel like I’m being constantly headed off at the pass because of my work-style/hours and little else.
I’m lucky. I can do other things. I take a good photo. I can pretty much do anything I put my mind to. If I can’t find a job in Human Resources, I have options – photography, social media, even (god forbid) monetising my blog and/or my writing mojo. But many people don’t.
I think the government is trying to change the culture of Australian organisations to embrace flexible work options which is generally a positive move. Without going too much into politics (because my head would surely spin around and snap off), on one hand businesses need to learn how to manage their own operations within a changing workforce as part-time parents aren’t going away anytime soon. But on the other hand, there is a risk that the restoration of balance to the employer/employee power paradigm will swing the pendulum too far in favour of the employee without the culture of an organisation every really changing. There is certainly a trend of stymying part-time workers at recruitment. It’s saccharine and sarin all mixed up in the one bag of political lip-service.
Employers should be encouraging a culture that optimises the benefits of flexibility for all stakeholders. Some companies do it and do it well. They are the good ones, the sustainable ones. If you know of any, please let me know. (I’m good at Scrabble, too).
What do you think? Is the government doing enough to encourage real change for working parents in the workplace? Is it all just lip service? Politicking?