Updated: Jul 29, 2021
Investing in maternity returners feels like the right thing to do or ‘a nice to have’, but interventions like maternity coaching don’t come cheap. Are your senior leaders unconvinced it's a step worth taking? Here's a compelling business case for ramping up support for women when they go through the maternity transition
Dr Emma Waltham | Maternity Returners Expert
Having a baby is a joyful experience, but there is a flip side – it’s a very risky time for women’s careers. Maternity is a major life transition that impacts on priorities and mental load, as well as confidence and wellbeing. At the moment, it’s harder than ever for women to balance their professional and family commitments, with the increase in working from home, and uncertainties around schools and childcare providers remaining open. And maternity increases the chance of women experiencing gender discrimination, which can easily come about when managers make unfounded assumptions. When women have a poor experience of going through the maternity transition at work, it leads to disconnect and frustration, and in the worse-case scenario, women can bring grievances against their managers, or leave.
There are many simple steps organisations can take to improve the experience for maternity returners, from enhancing benefits and offering flexibly working, to setting up family networks and providing maternity coaching. It makes good business sense to put strategies like this in place, to ease the journey through pregnancy and maternity leave – and ensure women come back to work feeling engaged and productive. Organisations that retain their employees after they’ve had a baby and safeguard their career progression have a proven competitive edge.
“When women have a poor experience of going through the maternity transition in an organisation, it will lead to feelings of disconnect and frustration, and in the worse-case scenario, women can bring grievances against their managers, or leave”
Here are 10 compelling reasons why your organisation will see a great return on any investment focused on supporting maternity returners that will really make the board sit up and think.
1. Gender Diversity
If women can’t come back and progress due to barriers encountered by working mums, then gender diversity will be an issue in the organisation at senior levels. It’s often the case that women’s careers stall after having children, with the Government Equalities Office finding in 2019 1 that working mums are half as likely as working dads to be promoted. If your employees’ career progression goes into the slow lane after they come back from maternity leave, then targets set by the board to achieve equal numbers of women and men in senior positions will be missed.
There is stacks of evidence now that gender diversity at senior levels leads to improved organisational performance. McKinsey & Company reported in 2020 2 that ‘companies should pay much greater attention to inclusion, even when they are relatively diverse’. Their analysis found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. Making sure the organisation is a good fit for maternity returners keeps women in talent pipelines, directly impacting on organisational performance.
3. Gender Pay Gap
In the UK it is a legal requirement for any organisation with 250 or more employees to analyse and report on their gender pay gap. The gap is currently 17% across the UK, with sectors such as finance, research and law having a significantly higher disparity.3 While many senior leaders aspire to close the gender pay gap in their organisations, this simply will not be possible until women are able to continue to continue their career trajectories after they have children.
4. Client Kickback
If your organisation doesn’t reflect the people it serves then it will start to lose its competitive edge, as clients, stakeholders and partners increasingly pushback against working with organisations that are not gender diverse. Your business risks losing clients to competitors that have a more diverse workforce.
There is a huge impact on productivity when women don’t return after maternity leave or come back feeling dis-engaged. It doesn’t make good business sense to lose employees, or for them not to be able to work at their full potential because there are too many barriers in place for them to be able to do their best work. Organisations that help women feel connected while they are on leave and support them as they make the shift to working parent, for example through providing maternity coaching, will reap the rewards of enhanced productivity.
“Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile”
6. Competitor Gain
Last year the Government Equalities Office1 found that when women feel frustrated in their professional life after becoming mothers they leave their organisation and go elsewhere. This is in fact usually the most likely way women get promoted after having a baby, probably because in many cases they are assumed to be less ambitious when they become pregnant. When experienced, skilled women leave the organisation they are very likely to take that expertise to a competitor.
“When experienced, skilled women leave the organisation they are very likely to take that expertise to a competitor”
7. Skills Gap
Sectors that struggle to recruit women into early careers or apprenticeship programmes can’t afford this female talent pipeline, which they’ve invested in and nurtured at great expense, to fracture once these same employees start to have children. The Royal Academy of Engineering 4 found that 57% of females drop off the professional register of engineers by the time they are 45, compared to just 17% of males. In sectors like this, which struggle to recruit women in the first place, it’s madness to lose them further down the line.
8. Recruitment Fees
The cost of covering the lost output when an employee leaves, as well as the resource and expense it takes to recruit someone to fill their post is significant. HR Review 5 estimates it to total £30,614. Retaining and developing experienced staff as opposed to losing women after maternity has to make good financial sense when compared to the cost of recruitment agency fees and lost management time.
Attracting the brightest and the best is key to any organisation’s ability to thrive, particularly in the current climate. Female graduates are now looking closely at the gender diversity credentials of organisations before they apply, with STEM Women 6 finding that almost two-thirds of female students in STEM subjects will check out an employer’s gender pay gap report before accepting a job. They will be looking to see initiatives like enhanced maternity benefits or maternity coaching, and evaluating whether women encounter a glass ceiling once they have children. Investing in women when they go through the maternity transition sends out a strong message that you are committed to gender parity at all levels.
“Retaining and developing experienced staff as opposed to losing women after maternity has to make good financial sense when compared to the cost of recruitment agency fees and lost management time”
2020 has been a year like no other and working mums have found their mental load ratchet up. With schools closed for several months, childcare options limited and the challenges of balancing working from home with family life, the impact is already being seen on women’s wellbeing. This coming winter will bring more pressures.
Research by the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance 7 found that Covid has greatly increased the burden of caring for women. Their research showed that only one-fifth of households were sharing childcare equally. It’s not surprising that a survey by King’s College London 8 found that 57% of women are feeling more anxious and depressed at present, compared to only 40% of men.
Your working mums need support and they need it now. Let them down and your organisation will feel the impact. Invest in your maternity returners and watch your organisation thrive.
If you need support to retain and re-engage your women returners, then please email Emma at email@example.com. She offers bespoke solutions, including training, coaching and consultancy that ensure organisations keep and develop their returning mums.
1 Gender equality at work: research on the barriers to women's progression, Government Equalities Office (October 2019). Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gender-equality-at-work-research-on-the-barriers-to-womens-progression
2 Diversity wins: How inclusion matters, McKinsey & Company (May 2020). Available at https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-wins-how-inclusion-matters
3 Gender pay gap in the UK: 2019, Office for National Statistics (October 2019). Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/bulletins/genderpaygapintheuk/2019
4 Closing the engineering gender pay gap, Royal Academy of Engineering & WISE (January 2020). Available at https://www.raeng.org.uk/publications/reports/closing-the-engineering-gender-pay-gap
5 It costs over £30,000 to replace a staff member, HR Review (February 2014). Available at https://www.hrreview.co.uk/hr-news/recruitment/it-costs-over-30k-to-replace-a-staff-member/50677
6 Understanding the gender imbalance in STEM, STEM Women (August 2020). Available at https://www.stemwomen.co.uk/whitepaper-download
7 C. Hupkau and B. Petrongolo, Work, care and gender during the Covid-19 crisis. London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, May 2020
8 COVID-19 pandemic significantly increased anxiety and depression in the UK (September 2020). Available at https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/covid-19-pandemic-significantly-increased-anxiety-and-depression-in-the-uk