Should we employ men of child-bearing age?

If you were a fly on the wall of recruitment discussions involving non-HR leaders, especially in SMEs, you might well hear comments along the lines of 'we just can’t afford to take the risk of employing men of child-bearing age'. It’s dangerous talk, but it is, perhaps understandable, when employers face the reality of male employees unreasonable and frequent demands for pay rises and promotions based on front rather than facts, that many employers baulk at the idea of employing men. They are too expensive when they work for you, and then, when they throw their teddy out of the pram for not meeting their demands and strop-off for a higher status job, you're faced with recruitment and training costs and the performance time-lag until their replacement gets up to speed.

But perhaps this is an exaggeration. Are men of child-bearing age such a costly risk?

What are the facts?

·      On the cost of remuneration, we know from the gender pay gap data that men cost more in wages - almost 10% more on average (Source: ONS 2016) and that's before overtime and negotiated bonuses.

·      On demands for promotion, we know from analysis by McKinsey1 that men get promoted more rapidly at every management level.

·      On job turnover, we know from a variety of sources2 that from early management positions onwards men voluntarily leave more frequently than women. After promotion both men and women are less likely to resign, although women are the least likely. However, job turnover slows as both men and women get older.

·      On replacement costs, these can be as high as 50%-60% of an employee’s annual salary3 and this excludes the time to get up to full performance speed - on average in management roles this is 6 months.

So, looking at the question of employing men of child-bearing age, the facts are bleak. This is not just in terms of the costs that many organisations will argue they can ill afford, but also in terms of lost productivity and competitive advantage which is of greatest concern in sectors characterised by rapid innovation such as the tech industries.

So what are the options?

There’s a natural inclination to ask probing questions during the interview process about future intentions: ‘what will you do if you don’t get promoted within the next three years?’ or ‘what pay rise frequency and level do you anticipate, and what will you do if you under-achieve against this ambition.’ However, there is no way of knowing whether words in an interview will be honoured and no legitimate way of gaining formal commitment.

 It seems clear the most strategic long term plan for managing costs and optimising company performance is to move junior women rapidly up the ladder out of more unstable staff roles into management positions where they are more highly engaged, and exhibit a higher level of loyalty.

OK. Enough. I was being ironic.

But what have you been thinking and feeling? Outraged? Challenged? Wondering about the extreme feminist tendencies of the author? Do you think this is ridiculous and have you been busily developing the reasons why it’s ridiculous? What has this author ignored, side-stepped or manufactured? Or are you wondering how the hell we’ve been thinking that it's women that represent the risk to cost and performance?

In the forthcoming book, 'The Women's Sat Nav to Success' we expose the top 10 workplace myths and mantras that confound many women's efforts to have equally fulfilling and profitable careers. This blog is example of daring to replace one of those culturally embedded myths with facts - facts that should alter thinking, behaviour and outcomes, improving gender-balance and enhancing performance.

But sometimes the reality isn’t obvious or gets obscured by our assumptions and by focusing on what doesn’t matter. Which section of line is longer? Are men or women a bigger risk? How about focusing on the individual and their talent, not their gender?

If you want to know more about recognising, supporting, rewarding and progressing women in your sector order your copy of the Women’s Sat Nav to Success Survey 2017 Executive Report or contact me for more information.

The survey is open until March 8th. Take part now...



1 McKinsey’s Women Matter Series (2007 – 2017)

2 “Through The Labyrinth”. Eagly and Carli (Harvard Business Press)

2 “Are Female Managers Quitters? The relationships of Gender, Promotions and Family Leaves of Absence to Voluntary Turnover”. Lyness and Judiesch (Amercian Psychological Association)

2 Accountancy Age

3 Turnover and Retention Catalyst 2015