Updated: Jul 29, 2021
Last year was such a challenging year for maternity returners. What are employers putting in place to improve the experience for returning mums in 2021?
Written by Dr Emma Waltham | Maternity Returners Expert
The difficulties maternity returners faced in 2020 are continuing into 2021, with many women back to juggling home schooling while working from home.
Now we’re in lockdown once again, pregnant women and new mums are once more feeling isolated and disconnected, unable to tap into the usual support services and networks.
"Now we’re in lockdown once again, pregnant women and new mums are once more feeling isolated and disconnected, unable to tap into the usual support services and networks"
Managers and HR are trying to maintain business as usual while having to adapt to continual change. Many are often just too busy to give returning mums the support they need.
On the plus side, the way we work was totally disrupted in 2020 and many leaders who were previously resistant to remote working had no other option but to give it a try.
This unexpected experiment in remote and flexible working looks promising for a more inclusive way of working in the future that could make it easier for women to continue their careers after having children.
Another positive is that there is a deeper understanding of the disconnect colleagues feel on maternity leave, now that more people are experiencing time away from the workplace, whether that’s because they’re remote working or on furlough.
My clients understand the pressures on returning mums. They want to help them feel valued and supported, safeguard their wellbeing and realise the additional benefits of improved retention and productivity.
What are my clients planning for 2021?
The organisations I’m working with usually have the foundations in place. They have taken steps to make sure they have clear maternity policies and processes. They’re rolling out flexible working so women are able to work around their family commitments. They usually also have enhanced maternity benefits.
These are great steps to take, and they often lead to women being able to return to their roles after they have their babies. It’s not enough, however, to ensure women are able to keep their career development on track. Managers using checklists is one thing, but creating a culture where women want to return and can continue their career development after having a baby is another challenge entirely.
Research undertaken by the Government Equalities Office found what those of us who work with maternity returners see time after time – women are much less likely to be promoted after having children. The GEO found in fact that half as many working mums as working dads get promoted. This is a massive contribution to the lack of gender diversity at senior levels in many companies and one of the main reasons why the gender pay gap is so hard to close.
Another finding of the GEO is that maternity returners go back to their employer but end up leaving further down the line, in order to get a more senior role in another company. This implies that women become frustrated and disillusioned, and decide to take their expertise to a competitor, when organisations have an environment where working mums don’t feel they can make the most of their knowledge and experience.
This loss of talent and productivity is something my clients want to avoid. My training and coaching solutions are designed to give women going through the maternity transition and their managers the support they need at this risky time in women’s careers.
Creating cultural change
I’m working with companies to help them raise awareness of the barriers working mums face and how everyone in the organisation can help to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment.
I’m providing 1:1 maternity coaching to my client’s employees through 2021. They know that giving women intensive intensive support at this time will keep mums in the business and the female talent pipeline. Coaching helps maternity returners manage their conflicting priorities and cope with their mental load at a time when mothers are increasingly giving up jobs and struggling to maintain their wellbeing.
My clients are also offering mentoring sessions to managers to help them with their personal touch. This last year has put a great deal of pressure on managers who have often seen a huge increase in their workload as they try to adapt to manage remote teams in challenging business circumstances. With so much going on it’s not surprising that keeping in touch with women on maternity leave and supporting their return to work is falling through the cracks.
1:1 mentoring sessions with managers help them empathise with women going through the maternity transition. It makes them confident in their conversations with pregnant and new mums. This empathy and consistently good communication is what’s needed to shift the dial and bring about the cultural change in organisations that is needed to keep returning mums in the talent pipeline and increase gender diversity at senior levels in the 2020s.
If you’d like to explore coaching and mentoring solutions for your organisation please email Emma Waltham at email@example.com to arrange a free consultation call.