Let’s talk about the elephant in the room* (*workplace) shall we?
Thanks to recent (2023) data from reports including Jessica Heagren's Careers After Babies Report and Jane Johnson's Careering into Motherhood Market Report, we know that far too many skilled and experienced women are routinely being forced out of the workplace after having children (according to the CAB report, 85% of mothers leave the full-time workforce within 3 years of having their first child, with 19% leaving altogether).
We also know that women face too many barriers to career success after becoming mothers (gender inequality in leadership, the gender pay gap, expensive childcare and inflexible working practices to name but a few).
But one thing we don’t focus on as much, which we need to, is the issue of ‘fake flexibility’ – when organisations offer reduced working hours to women after they return from maternity leave but expect the same output.
What fake flexibility essentially does is undermine women’s (often already low, post-maternity leave) confidence in their ability to handle work responsibilities, forcing them to work on evenings and weekends to keep up with their peers and their employers’ expectations. And it doesn’t take a genius to work out the ramifications of this on mothers’ well-being (remember that stat I shared at the start?)
Organisations MUST stop paying lip service to supporting career returners and step up, offering genuinely flexible working practices which enable mothers to flourish upon returning to the workplace.
And, if they are serious about supporting women to flourish post-maternity leave, they must also consider the provision of coaching – not just for mothers but also for their managers, since badly handled conversations increase women’s anxiety about returning to work, and “the difference is notable [in companies] where line managers are more understanding and empathetic” (CAB report).
Yet currently only 1/5 of returning to work mothers are offered maternity coaching by their employers (CIM Report).
If your company is one of the 4 in 5 which do not currently offer return to work coaching for mothers, maybe it’s time for the key decision makers to consider why that is, and how it might benefit the organisation as a whole?
I’d be happy to have a conversation.