Women believe their careers were damaged by having children

Chris Parke, managing director of Talking Talent, tells Personnel Today what HR functions could do to help women maintain their career momentum through their maternity leave and following their return to the workplace.


Most working women believe that having a family has negatively affected their career, new research has revealed.

A survey of 174 women undertaken by Talking Talent, obtained exclusively by Personnel Today, revealed that 77% felt their career progression had been adversely affected by having children, with half stating that employers need to show a greater understanding of what having a family involves.

More than half of the women were also concerned that they would be viewed differently or negatively by their colleagues on returning to work.

Speaking at a roundtable debate on the findings held in London today (21 October), Caroline Rawes, HR director at law firm Linklaters, said employers should take positive action to sit down with women returning from maternity leave to discuss their career progression. However, getting the timing right for this conversation was essential.

Rawes said employers should start the dialogue two months before women go on maternity leave, but then leave it until a month after their return to resume the conversation.

“Many women are not ready to talk about their ambition when they first come back – they want to talk about balancing their hours and practical things,” she told Personnel Today. “But it’s worth having the conversation a month, three months and six months post their return to establish how they are getting on and to see where they want their career to go.”

She added that Linklaters offered women maternity coaching to discuss what their opportunities were.

Sarah Churchman, head of diversity and inclusion at professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), said it was crucial that line managers were given specific training on the issues surrounding maternity leave, so they could offer women returners the best support.

Brigit Simler, managing director of employee relations at Goldman Sachs, said the investment bank had started one-on-one training sessions with line managers who have pregnant women in their teams to ensure they get the most out of them.

The survey by Talking Talent also revealed 43% of women felt their engagement had decreased after returning to work.

Churchman said this drop in engagement was “inevitable”, but employers could use mentors to help women cope with the change.

PwC has launched a pilot mentoring programme to help women cope with the strain of returning to work. “They are put in touch with someone else who has been through the process in the last couple of years,” she said. “It makes it much more personal.”

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