“Only 66% of mothers felt that their employer supported them WILLINGLY.”
Results from a recent survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission has once again highlighted the persistence of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.
Although 84% of employers said that supporting pregnant workers and those on maternity leave is in the interests of their organisations, only 66% of mothers felt that their employer supported them willingly.
I thought the word ‘willingly’ was poignant here. Pregnancy and maternity are characteristics protected by law. However, unfortunately an organisation can go through the motions, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into real support for women at what can be a scary, challenging, and yet exciting time.
Shockingly, the survey reported that half of mothers have experienced negative consequences from working flexible hours, such as fewer opportunities or feeling that their opinion was less valued.
The release of these most recent statistics comes at the same time that Sarah Lawley, our Training Coordinator, popped in (with gorgeous, 5 month old, baby Ellis in tow) for her Return to Work meeting, having been on leave since December 2014.
We wanted to go past national statistics and the legal obligations, and interview Sarah as a first-time mother to find out about her hopes and fears, and what really constitutes as support at this transitional time. This is what she said:
How you were feeling about the prospect of returning to work before you had your Return to Work meeting?
I have actually been quite nervous about what my job would entail when I came back. I have started to look forward to returning to work and I’m definitely up for a brand new challenge. But I was anxious about whether the hours I wanted would fit in with the needs of the business, and whether working part time would still allow me to get my teeth stuck into something meaningful.
How was your Return to Work meeting?
My Return to Work meeting went even better than expected! Most importantly, I was able to get the hours I wanted in order to work around Ellis’ need. And although the job role has changed slightly, it’s actually meant that I will be able to get my teeth stuck into a new project – which is just what I’m after, yet it still has lots of familiar aspects too so it won’t be totally alien.
RightTrack is a small family business so it was relatively easy for us all to stay in touch. How different do you think it would be for women who work for much bigger organisation and what would the impact be when it came to reintegrating into the workplace?
Yes, I have been emailing or Whastapping in every few weeks or so with funny baby updates and pictures. I was also able to go in and visit everyone which made keeping in touch easier and contact consistent. We had a lovely BBQ in the office garden when the weather was nice, Ellis came too. It’s been nice that everyone at RightTrack has been interested in hearing about Ellis and his shenanigans!
I’d imagine for women in larger companies that this wouldn’t necessarily be the case. Without a doubt, that would make the transition from being at home to going back into work a much tougher and scarier one.
We are looking forward to having you back! What are you most looking forward to?
I know everyone says it, but it’s true! – First and foremost, I am looking forward to more time talking to adults! I’m also looking forward to challenging myself. I love getting stuck into new projects that I can make my own and that’s exactly what I have to look forward to when I come back in November.
Describe your emotional worries and practical concerns.
My worries are mostly about small things like if Ellis is ill and has to be collected/kept off nursery. How I am going to be able to manage those days and sort out different arrangements? I do need to discuss this before I go back so I have a bit of a plan ahead of these inevitabilities.
Summarise what’s most important, in 5 practical tips, for employers to truly welcome and support colleagues coming back after maternity leave.
Keep in Touch
Keep in touch with your employee whilst she is off. Invite her to email in with pictures and updates. And vice versa. Maybe set up a Whatsapp group if it’s not too much trouble. She is still part of the team whilst she is on maternity, and it makes everything far more joined up when it’s time to come back.
Invite her in
Invite her in with the little one for a catch up over coffee once in a while. If your team is anything like mine, most people are quite excited to have a squeeze of the baby, and catch up with mum too of course! I appreciate that as a manager you don’t want to create too many distractions, too often, but what’s coffee and a piece of cake every now and again? I think it makes for a much nicer and happier working environment!
Arrange Practicalities Swiftly
When your employee advises when they’d like to come back to work, try to sort it as quickly as possible! The biggest cause of concern is the unknown, and the biggest stress is trying to book places at the nursery and make childcare arrangements. It will really, really help new mothers out if they can move pretty swiftly with agreeing hours and responsibilities in good time.
Be Practical, But Also Be Supportive
Practicalities are one thing but coming back to work and leaving your little one is a big deal – on the first day back, expect tears!
Keep Communication Channels Open
No one ever wants to be a nuisance to their employer but then life doesn’t always go to plan and sometimes things get complicated. There are going to be times when baby is ill or when Mom is feeling a little stressed, down or struggling. Checking in once in a while and making sure your employees can come and talk to you openly and honestly is key for both the business and your team.