Lack of support for maternity returners among UK businesses has been uncovered in a new survey of professional, mainly management-level women.
More than four fifths of pregnant women begin their maternity leave unhappy and lacking in confidence about work – and over a third feel so isolated when they return that they want to hand their notice in.
MMB Magazine (https://mmbmagazine.co.uk/), the working parents website, surveyed more than 1,000 mothers, 72% of whom were in jobs at management level or above.
In response its findings, MMB has launched a campaign, #LeaveLoudly and #ReturnLouder. Backed by the Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, it will empower women to call for better treatment and offer a maternity returners’ programme for businesses.
Key statistics are:
- Only 18% of maternity returners felt happy and confident about work – having seen the way previous maternity returners had been dealt with by their employer
- 37% felt so unsupported and isolated on their return that they wanted to leave
- Just 17% felt they received good communication and support through the maternity process
- 90% said no returner support was offered though returner programmes or one to one coaching – yet 92% said a dedicated returner programme could have been beneficial
60% were worried about their requests for flexible working being rejected and 68% had concerns about the cost of childcare when going back to work.
Abbie Coleman, founder of MMB, said: “Our survey shows it’s time for action, not just talk. #LeaveLoudly is about senior managers doing just that, to help normalise flexible working and change working culture to focus on production, not presenteeism.
“Along the same principle is #ReturnLouder. We want mums returning from maternity leave, or time out raising children, to let everyone know that there is this huge talent pool of highly skilled parents who often get overlooked. We need to change the way we look and engage all returners.”
The Labour MP for Leeds West, Rachel Reeves, herself a working mother, is supporting the campaign, alongside business leaders and academics.
She said: “The challenges facing parents returning to work after the birth of a child are immense. Many have to juggle caring responsibilities and running a home with fitting back into the workplace.
“It is important that employers are sympathetic to those challenges and do far more to help working parents with flexible hours, support with childcare where possible and other measures. Working parents are a huge asset to business and they should be nurtured and supported so they can play their part in growing the economy.”
The MMB Returner programme, involving coaching, mentoring and access to a supportive network, was developed by Abbie Coleman and Beckie Taylor, two mothers who are passionate about changing working culture to benefit future parents – and helping companies to retain talented employees.
Abbie says: “To this end we have developed MMB Returner. It is one of the first programmes of its type. We want to change the way the business engages its working mother talent and the UK as a whole is a desirable place to live and work. We need employers to join with us in engaging the maternity leave and returner market.”
Francis Lake Head of Organisational Development Yorkshire and Cyldesdale Bank said: “Becoming a parent creates so much happiness and joy. It also creates loads of new responsibility and new challenges. The research from MMB shows that the experience of maternity leave can create concerns, fear and feelings of isolation. That is not ok. We firmly believe that we as an employer can and should support women from before they go on maternity leave, through their leave and beyond. We’re taking a thorough look at everything we do to support women on maternity leave, and we want to ensure that we make a positive difference.”
Dr Jo Ingold, Associate Professor at Leeds University Business School said: “The low numbers of women involved in a returners programme is consistent with other studies (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/685064/Returner_Programmes_-_Best_Practice_Guidance_for_Employers.pdf). This suggests the need to open it up to include a wider group of returners ( https://theconversation.com/returnships-for-women-wont-fix-the-career-break-penalty-74472) in order to facilitate businesses to address the huge loss of female talent post-maternity leave.”
Dr Jana Javornik, Associate Professor at Leeds University Business School, added: “Motherhood is a game changer (https://theconversation.com/is-it-becoming-easier-to-be-a-working-mother-46492) for most women, requiring a significant reorganisation of their lives. While a returners programme (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/685064/Returner_Programmes_-_Best_Practice_Guidance_for_Employers.pdf) may help women transition back into the workforce, this programme needs to be combined with affordable high-quality childcare (https://theconversation.com/focusing-free-childcare-on-working-parents-is-short-sighted-44623), flexible working and supportive workplaces.”
Helen Gration, York business owner and trustee of National Day Nurseries Association, said: “There is a huge reservoir of talent that is wasted by not engaging and supporting women on maternity leave and upon return.
“They are efficient, highly skilled, intelligent and even more motivated than before because they want the best for their family. It’s nonsense that a business wouldn’t adapt in order to bring back that expertise to help it progress.”
The Law Society, which supports, promotes and represents solicitors, said: “While the number of women ‘at the top’ is improving, there is still a long way to go and law firms are recognising that they are losing a large number of women from private practice as these women start to become more senior.
“From speaking to our members, the headline issues are that men need to have a seat at the table during these types of conversations, flexible working needs to be viewed as the norm and not a lesser role to rid the issue of presenteeism, and there is a lack of women role models who can provide coaching/mentoring to support junior women as they progress. As such, we are not surprised to see these results from MMB’s survey of women returning to work after maternity.
“While some law firms are better than others, there still does not seem to be much promotion of the support that may be available to women returners. Leeds Law Society celebrate organisations like MMB who can offer this kind of support and coaching, we would only ask that the employers shout louder about these initiatives and incorporate them into their own internal policies.”