Startup Diaries: Providing Opportunities For Unemployed Mothers In Greece

Lia and Margaret at SnailsIn Jeanette Sklivanou’s second post for The NextWomen, she discusses the impact of austerity in Greece, with particular reference to how the plight of unemployed women with children has helped inform her hiring strategy.

Recently I watched a BBC television programme featuring celebrity chefs who briefly share the lives of families getting by on poverty-level wages. They try to help the hard-pressed households with advice on cooking nutritious meals with very little money. It made for disheartening viewing.

Families, who have worked hard all their lives, who don’t want or expect luxuries, find that they can’t manage to feed themselves in the current economic climate, and so quietly resort to visiting food banks in order to feed their children or elderly relatives.

While economic hardship affects all the Eurozone, and indeed all the world, the programme struck a chord with me in terms of how difficult life is for many women in Greece in this age of austerity resulting from the global financial crisis.

After six years of deep recession, Greece is experiencing record joblessness, slashed wages and shrinking welfare benefits.

Total unemployment is estimated at 27.4% - or well over one in four of the population – although the real number and impact is much higher when you consider that this figure excludes anyone who works for even a mere two hours per day. At minimum wage.

This is a tragedy for the younger generations who struggle to carve out a meaningful working life or career in the face of record 57.5% youth unemployment (rising to 65% for young women). But the unemployment rate in the generalised older female population, which has recently risen to 30.5%, is notable – and far higher than for men which stands at approximately 24.2%.

This level of unemployment has a huge knock on effect for families and children. In the face of such overwhelming unemployment, and as a mum of two, I’m in a very fortunate position that, while still very much a start-up business, we are able to offer some employment opportunities – even if only part-time.

Five out of the six people that we employ are women/mums in their 40’s.

In Greece, hiring a younger person with less experience means you pay less in wages and you also get some assistance from the government. But when you hire mums you have to pay more depending on how many children she has. So in other words, women in their 40s in Greece have fewer chances of gaining employment. However talented and experienced they are, much is stacked against them! So I suppose being a mother has informed some of my recruitment choices.

Oftentimes women with children find it the hardest to land a job. In addition to financial disincentives for employers, there are also unspoken judgements that perhaps a mother will want more flexible working arrangements or time off whether due to children’s illness or sports days! But I firmly believe that it’s imperative to balance business acumen with the sometimes difficult decisions that entail prioritising other more important matters, such as people over profit.

In this hyper competitive economy some might argue that conventional recruitment methods and criteria that prioritise education, qualifications and ability and willingness to work overtime are more likely to guarantee SMEs a stable workforce. But we have adopted a different hiring strategy and prioritised other ‘proficiencies’.

You can teach technical skills but you can’t teach qualities such as dedication, loyalty and respect.

These are characteristics intrinsic to a person and more important, in my view, than specific job-related skills that can be attained through training. In addition to more highly valuing the so-called ‘soft skills’, I truly believe that employers should adopt a more flexible approach to hiring in an age when it is a rarity for people to work for the same company their entire working life. Those days are gone. We now necessarily have to continually learn new skills as we navigate the ever-changing landscape of employment and technology. And that also means that employees often have an eye open for the next opportunity.

For a company to retain a committed team it not only has to invest resources such as time and training, it should also foster a community approach.

We have achieved that through hiring like-minded people who share the same character traits and also through adopting a flexibility in scheduling approach that acknowledges and accommodates, whenever possible, individual circumstances. And that applies to all employees male and female! We have a dedicated and enthusiastic team with a near zero turnover rate. I couldn’t ask for more.

Jeanette Sklivanou is the Founder of Safe and Beautiful, the world’s first 100%-safe, child, parent and planet friendly kids’ nail polishes. Unlike other child nail polishes, Snails does not require the use of nail polish remover. The only child polish to be 100% European, Snails is manufactured in France and is packaged in lead-free Italian glass bottles. Since the launch of Snails, the company has gone from strength to strength with distributors around the globe now ordering the product.

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