The employment rate for Mums is reportedly at a 20-year high, according to a recent article published in People Management.
When I read this, my first thoughts were “this is real progress – we’re finally moving closer towards equality in the workplace”. I soon realised, however, that this is only positive news for those working Mums who feel like they are succeeding in their roles and are happy and supported by their organisations.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for those who are burnt out, stressed and often feel inferior in a workplace that isn’t suitable for them and unfortunately, there are still too many Mum who fall into the latter category.
Many still say they feel they are ‘losing out’ in the workplace and less than 1 in 5 women report feeling confident returning to work after maternity leave.
The support that really counts
As a coach for returning Mums, I’m regularly told that they feel isolated, judged and concerned about reasserting themselves in the workplace without neglecting the needs of their little ones at home.
For these mothers, this is often the start of a downward spiral. In fact, I’ve never seen the employer/employee relationship truly recover from a poorly handled transition back to work.
To try and prevent this from happening, many well-intentioned organisations have implemented flexible working policies and childcare subsidisation to support employees returning to work after maternity leave.
These initiatives are great, but without cultural changes at the core of an organisation, I’d argue that they are not enough to really make a difference.
So what else can organisations do to support Mums returning to work and create a fully inclusive, family-friendly working environment for them to thrive in?
1. Build a Working Parent Community
By creating a group for working parents and carers to join, organisations can provide returning Mums with a safe space to connect with others, share experiences and highlight issues. Having a community will help returning Mums feel like they belong and prevent feelings of isolation for those who don’t work closely with other parents.
Ideally, someone from the community should volunteer to be the chair and an employee from the leadership team should act as a group sponsor so that the community has a voice at the most senior level of the organisation.
Internal communication channels, such as Slack , are a great way to start building a community, however for something more structured, group coaching sessions are a safe and practical way to enable working parents to come together and learn from each other.
2. Parental Leave Coaching
Giving new parents access to their own executive coach is a brilliant way to help them hit the ground running and help them prepare for that all important meeting about when they return from leave. With their coach they will be able to work through their specific challenges in a confidential setting, redefine their career goals and set boundaries to support their flexible working arrangements.
Investing in Mums in this way sends them, as well as other employees, a clear message that they are valued and welcome at the company. Offering this to Dads and other parents as well, will encourage them to take shared parental leave, which as we know, is a crucial step towards helping women back to work sooner whilst simultaneously addressing the balance of childcare responsibilities at home.
3. Management Training
Even the best managers can struggle when it comes to handling maternity leave, especially if taking leave isn’t something they have experienced themselves.
From a human standpoint, it’s important that managers understand how to support their team members through a period of huge change and legally it’s crucial that managers across the organisation approach this issue consistently.
When advising companies on what to include in their training, I always suggest that they cover policies and processes such as the legal implications of getting this wrong, common challenges that returners may face, and ways in which managers can use this as an opportunity to build psychological safety within their teams.
To make sure managers retain learning they will need to be reminded of the key points in the months that follow the training. They will also benefit from ongoing feedback from the working parents in their teams so that they can continue to support them in the best way possible.
4. Unexpected Gestures of Kindness
Companies such as Apple have a policy to “surprise and delight” their customers. It’s obviously worked well for them and I’d argue it’s a philosophy that other organisations could benefit from adopting as well, both internally and externally. Sometimes, a little unexpected gesture can go a long way to making an employee feel special.
So, what does this look like for an employee returning from maternity leave? This could be something as simple as a little gift with meaning – something that says “we understand that this could be a challenging time, but we are here to support you through it”.
There are many ways to do this, but one of my favourites is giving returning Mums a desktop photo frame on their first day back for them to proudly display a picture of their baby. Not only will this hopefully ease the separation from their child, but it’s also a powerful signal to them that the organisation accepts them and their new responsibilities.
Of course, companies don’t have to implement all of these recommendations in order to support employees returning from maternity leave in the right way. They do however, need to look beyond flexible working policies and procedures to truly connect with their maternity returners.
Only then, will working Mums feel safe, valued for the person they have become and able to perform in their roles to the best of their abilities.
Why not give your employees access to some of our parental leave coaching programmes and workshops to show how much you really value them!