How to spot ambition and caregiving bias and support the return to work


Ambition bias, gender bias and caregiving bias are real barriers in women's careers. Here are tips for employers to support women as they transition back to work after taking parental leave.

On International Womens’ Day we are calling on employers to #BreakTheBias. 

Ambition bias, caregiving bias and gender bias is real and still prevalent in so many organisations and there is a need for employers to act now to retain, support and promote women. 

WGEA’s latest 2021 report states that ​​stereotypical beliefs still exist that suggest women are less committed to their work or need to be protected from overwork. This limits women’s exposure to the career development opportunities necessary to advance to senior leadership roles.

Is it any wonder that women make up over 50% of the workforce but only account for 20% of CEO’s? 

Despite this fewer than half of employees say they’ve spoken out against biassed behaviour at any point in their career.

You could say that starting Grace Papers was a pretty seismic career transition from my previous corporate role in general counsel. I made the leap from a corporate lawyer to a consultant (while starting a family), to a digital entrepreneur with Grace Papers. 

But Grace Papers wasn’t born overnight – it’s the combination of my passion for social justice, a law degree, and my personal experiences of from sexual harassment, caregiving bias, ambition bias and discrimination, and what I’ve learned about our humanity and our potential from having three children.

Having lived experience of discrimination and bias in previous workplaces, I am passionate about coaching businesses and employers through easy steps to support parental leave transition, retain top talent and close the gender pay gap with women in the workforce. 

Employers can make the transition from parental leave to return to work supportive and positive. And it starts by understanding parental leave is not a career break. It’s an event in your career, not the end of it. 

Here are three tips for employers to support women as they transition back to work after taking parental leave. 

1. Improve paid parental leave scheme for men and women

The good news is the work Grace Papers is doing with business has seen primary carers leave becoming increasingly available to men, but only 12% of those who took it in 2021 were men (WGEA 2022). There is a desperate need for businesses to support women when they return from parental leave but there also needs to be a focus to encourage men to take the leave that they are entitled to and avoid stereotypical stigma associated with child care being the ‘woman’s domain’. 

Men taking parental leave can greatly shape parenting and domestic behaviours. If men are more involved early on in the care of their child, they will stay more involved when both parents are back in paid work – and not just with the kids, in domestic work too. Males taking parental leave has not only been shown to boost male participation in the household but also enhance female participation in the workforce and thus advance gender equality in both. And getting men more involved in unpaid work will not only benefit the health of working women, but also that of their kids. Children with Dads who participate more in family life also have been shown to have better mental health and emotional outcomes.

2. Provide flexible work options

Flexibility in the workplace should be the norm, not the exception. And not just for women, but for men too. The ability to work flexibly and not need to be present from 9 – 5 will mean working parents feel less restricted in their healthcare choices. We also need to stop equating flexible work with less work and appreciate that it can actually be a more effective and efficient means to getting the job done. According to a study by Ernst & Young women in flexible roles waste the least amount of time at work of all staff, just 11.1%, compared to an average 14.5% for the rest of the working population. So providing flexible work options can be a win for businesses as well as working parents.

3. Abandon traditional gender stereotypes

We all need to let go of the antiquated views of gender that see the female identity tied to caring and the male identity tied to income generation. Parents are both responsible for the care and wellbeing of their children. If the role of carer is more equally divided between both parents, regardless of gender then it makes sense that working women will have more time to look after themselves when they need it. And this is just the start. Whether women are in paid work or not, they rarely put their needs ahead of their children’s, and while this is admirable; it also makes them sick. Workplaces, government and men can do a lot to help change this.

At Grace Papers, we support women and men to successfully and confidently transition in and out of the workplace. The reality is the transition to and from parental leave isn’t easy, with 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men experiencing some form of pregnancy-related discrimination throughout that journey. So through our digital and face-to-face coaching, we prepare parents and carers to anticipate the potential biases of all their stakeholders – from managers to mothers-in-law – and in doing so, we aim to empower women to take responsibility for their own careers and empower men to embrace their role as carers. 

We consider coaching and paid leave not as entitlements but as benefits that can support women and men to stay connected to their workplace and engaged with their careers over the longer term. We help working parents to know their values and make sure they are aligned to their career, to know their worth to an organisation and to have the confidence and tools to negotiate the flexibility they need.

If you’d like to know more about gender equality and how Grace Papers can help your business talk to us.

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