IF YOU are a working mother looking for a job out there, some employers may be reluctant to hire you.

This finding comes from a survey released last month by workspace solutions provider Regus, which found that the proportion of firms worldwide intending to hire more working mums has dropped by a fifth since the same period last year.

Only 36 per cent of companies globally plan to hire working mums this year, compared to 44 per cent last year.

In Singapore, the study found that while 55 per cent of firms polled plan to add staff, a smaller proportion - 49 per cent - declared that they would hire working mums.

Over 10,000 business respondents from Regus' global contacts database were interviewed in August and September last year.

Mr William Willems, vice-president of South-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand at Regus, said: 'It is not surprising to see that prejudiced attitudes come back into play with economic belt-tightening, and some businesses are evidently still guilty of applying old-fashioned misgivings to the contemporary work environment.'

He added that despite most employers agreeing that passing over working mums means shutting out valuable staff, there is still some concern that family responsibilities may prevent them from giving their job full attention and commitment.

But Ms Majella Slevin, a manager at specialist recruitment consultancy Robert Walters, added that the 'stigma' attached to them is not as prevalent here due to the excellent level of readily available and easily affordable child care, compared to their counterparts in other countries.

Worldwide, 37 per cent of employers expressed concern about flexibility, 33 per cent worried that working mums would leave after training to have another child, and 24 per cent fretted about outdated skills.

The study also showed that the top concerns that Singapore employers have about working mums are their flexibility and outdated skills.

Ms Slevin agreed that these were top concerns, and added that the increasing cost incurred by employers when hiring someone to cover their role during their maternity leave is also a key factor.

However, Regus also had good news to share as well.

It found that globally, 72 per cent of companies believe that ignoring part-time returning mothers results in them missing out on a significant and valuable part of the employment pool.

While employers may be reluctant to hire working mums, Mr Douglas Foo, founder and chief executive of Sakae Holdings, said that it was important to include family as part of the corporate culture.

Mr Foo related how an employee once wanted to resign to spend more time with her son, who was entering primary school.

'I didn't want her to resign as she was an experienced employee. So I created a flexi-time arrangement so that she could look after her son and continue contributing to the company,' he said.

Mr Foo felt that spreading out the work among several employees would help to ease the burden when an employee goes on maternity leave.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) said it was crucial for employers' mindsets regarding gender roles to change.

'They think that since the woman has to look after the family, work will not be the top priority for them,' said Ms Corinna Lim, Aware's executive director.

Aware recently made headlines with its call for paternity leave to be made mandatory.

Ms Lim added that instituting paternity leave would remove any reason for employers to discriminate against working mums.

Employers who shut out working mums may be missing out on experienced workers who are sometimes more efficient because they are less distracted by the social environment, said Robert Walters' Ms Slevin.

She added: 'They need to look at hiring people on a part-time basis, adopting flexi-time, introducing job sharing and the possibility of working from home.'

While companies can do more to encourage working mothers to continue working, the mums should also take steps to improve their employability.

Mums returning to work after an extended childcare break can do refresher courses to update their skills.

Those on maternity leave should keep in touch with the office to be aware of internal happenings, as well as to demonstrate their motivation.

Working mums should also be able and ready to show any potential employer their childcare plans, to allay concerns that they may take excessive time off.

'This also reassures employers that they are able to work overtime if necessary as they have backup systems in place,' said Ms Slevin.