Why Asian mothers are flocking back to work

Author: PM Editorial | Date: 02 Sep 2015

Businesses show increased willingness to hire returning parents, with developing markets leading the way

More than a quarter of businesses across Asia plan to increase the number of returning mothers they hire in the next 12 months, placing the region well above the global average in its attitudes towards parents, according to a new study.
The figures, compiled by global workplace provider Regus, covered eight Asian economies - Hong Kong, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan - and many showed a strong intention to employ women who had stepped out of the workforce to have a child. In particular, Indonesian employers topped the list, with 53 per cent actively expecting to hire more new mothers, followed by China (51 per cent) and Malaysia (50 per cent).
John Henderson, chief financial officer at Regus Asia Pacific, said the results offered insights into the motivations of Asian recruiters, particularly compared to the global average.
He also noted a key difference between the Asian businesses. “If you look across all eight countries, you will find an interesting pattern - developing countries such as China and Indonesia have the highest rates of interest in hiring returning mothers, while mature markets such as Hong Kong and Japan show comparatively low interest,” said Henderson.
Of the 1,738 businesses polled in Japan, 34 per cent said they planned to hire more returning mothers this year compared to last year, and the figure was even lower in Hong Kong (32 per cent) – though both were still above the 26 per cent global average.
Henderson suggested one of the reasons for the disparity between mature and developing markets might be that HR hiring systems in mature markets have been in place for a long time, making companies less likely to want to break from the status quo or invest time in examining their hiring processes.
“When it comes to the top reasons that business professionals value and hire returning mothers, the results in Asia are in alignment with global sentiment,” said Henderson. ‘Experience and skill set’ ranks top, followed by ‘stability and low intent of changing job’ and ‘high reliability and commitment.’”
He singled out China, where employers value stability the most (50 per cent of employers), compared to the other Asian countries where ‘experience and skill set’ is the most important attribute.
The key to enticing mothers back into the workforce is to offer some level of flexible working, such as the possibility of moving closer to home. In Hong Kong, 83 per cent of businesses polled believed that flexible working was the key to attracting and retaining female workers.
Wu Mei Ling, co-ordinator of the Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association, welcomed the report but sounded a cautionary note. “It is good that companies across Asia recognise the value that women can provide – working mothers are hardworking, reliable and have experience. My big concern is that they won’t get commensurate pay, which is what often happens when women take jobs that allow for flexibility,” said Wu.