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Maternity Returners Survey: initial results

Updated: Feb 6, 2022

We launched our Maternity Returners survey in autumn 2021 to give women going through this life changing transition a voice. Here, we give a preview of the results of the survey.

Written by Dr Emma Waltham | Maternity Returners Expert

We wanted to hear what they have to say about the impact having children has on women at work. This is timely, given that in November 2021 the Office of National Statistics published research showing that the gender pay gap quadruples for women in their 40s, as parenthood makes such a significant contribution.

To address this, we need to understand what it’s really like to be a working mum in the workforce today. By working together and listening to those experiences, we can transform the experience of working mums. This will help employers build and sustain strong talent pipelines, broaden gender diversity, increase wellbeing of working mums and prevent skills gaps.

The survey is open now and will run until Monday 7th February 2022. Over 60 women have already completed the survey, giving valuable insights into their lived experiences.

Our respondents are highly qualified women, with over half having a postgraduate degree. They are predominantly aged 30-39 and a fifth are in management roles. It is vital that organisations retain and develop this demographic to have any chance of closing their gender pay gaps.

From our initial results we can see that the picture is very mixed. A third of women say they had a negative experience at work both in pregnancy and when they returned after leave. The most challenging time was during maternity leave, with only 37% of women saying they were happy with the level of interaction they had with their employer while on maternity leave.

What would women would like to see change?

Women say there is an inconsistency of approach from both HR and managers. While some women had very positive experiences that made them feel supported and understood, that was not always the case. There was a lack of consistency and knowledge that made forward planning difficult and stressful. Women report having to proactively seek guidance and clarification.

“The lady who is in charge of maternity leave was new and didn’t know the policy very well. I am also a first-time mum, so it was a learning curve for the both of us. In a time of uncertainty I just wanted to have someone confident in what they are doing.”

Feelings of exclusion and lack of involvement are also expressed. Women can feel overlooked when they are pregnant or on leave, especially at the current time when there is an increase in remote working:

“I’m not involved in the return to the office as I am pregnant and I do not feel not part of company.”

With only 37% of women saying they were happy with the level of interaction on maternity leave, what is going so wrong?

  • “I was made to feel like I was leaving work undone when going away and made to feel very stressed and guilty.”

  • “It was actually good to stay in touch, but because it was never discussed ahead of time, I would suddenly get emails needing immediate response and then afterward a month of silence.”

  • “ [I was] left feeling the need to apologise for wanting to take maternity leave for the entire entitlement of one year.”

Some women expressed what they felt had gone well when they were on leave:

“I was very grateful that my company respected my wishes for 'radio silence' unless I reached out during maternity leave so that I could spend the 9 months focusing on and embracing being a mother.”
“My work have been supportive and only got in contact if I asked them to.”

Establishing what level of contact women want and having a plan in place to follow through seems to be key.

What is happening on the return to work?

With over 40% of women saying they did not feel positive on their return to work, there is clearly more to be done to support female employees coming back after maternity leave. Half of women said that they struggled with mental load on their return to work and half also said they felt thrown in at the deep end.

When women did feel positive, they mentioned themes such as flexible working, having a supportive manager and continued career progression:

“My workplace has been completely flexible with the hours I have worked as I returned to work. Every time I have requested a change to accommodate childcare they have agreed without question. They have actively promoted me and offered me more senior positions.”
“Somehow the pandemic helped me as the remote work options allowed me to stay home with my child for longer than expected; the hybrid working model is also giving me the right level of autonomy to manage unexpected events.”

However, some women report that remote working makes them feel invisible.

Women were also asked if the maternity transition was impacting on their careers:

  • “I was unable to return to the first line manager role on a part-time basis, so moved to a lower grade role on a lower salary.”

  • “I had to give up my shorter week to get a promotion then I had to give up that role to go back to a shorter week to accommodate child care.”

  • “I do admittedly feel like my career has gone backwards and that I won't have the opportunity to apply into a more senior role again until I return from maternity leave.”

When women have to step down during parenthood, this means organisations lose experienced employees from their talent pipeline, which ultimately prevents increasing gender diversity at senior levels.

The attitude of the manager is often very influential as to whether women continue on their career pathway:

 ”My previous manager assumed I might want to quit or go part time. I feel like they wrote off my career. My current manager is very supportive of my wanting to build a career whilst being a mum.”

White Paper and full results

There is still time to participate in the survey, which will run until Monday 7th February.

The full results will be published in a whitepaper in Spring 2022.

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