Maternity leave has been in the news a fair bit recently: the Bill Gates foundation controversially reduced their paid maternity provision, as this Observer article details, and in this story from The Times, a top British lawyer described how she was going to tackle her maternity leave this time around.  Some might argue that these two stories represent a backward step for mothers in the workplace but we’re not so sure.  In fact this is great news – the discussion about this potentially disruptive time  in women’s careers is finally happening.

Having coached mothers (mainly, but increasingly fathers) for the past 10 years, it is clear to us that a lot has changed: Families are different and have different expectations, similarly organisations have changed and they’re needs have changed too.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is the way we all work i.e. the Monday-Friday/9-5 working week is still the norm.  This is one of the key problem areas around the return to work and the early years of parenthood,   This is the high flight risk time for many mothers (and their companies).  If they can’t make it work then they won’t work. 

What mothers are saying:

  • Most families need two incomes, so mothers need to work
  • Most women want to work and many want to work more than 3 days a week so NOT part-time
  • Women are very ambitious and feel frustrated by the constraints of the current set up. This is often because they feel they are asking for ‘out of the ordinary’ support and flexibility which means they have to compromise in terms of job content/pay. 
  • Women want to progress despite taking maternity leave, however most do not feel able to ask for promotion because they feel maternity leave resets their value and experience to zero from their employers point of view
  • Women are prepared to do what is needed in order to fulfil the demands of their jobs
  • Not all women want to take 12 months off – they feel pressure to do so, even when their personal finances can’t support taking this much time out. In fact many would come back earlier and then work flexibly in order to work out the best way of working for them, their organisation and role.

So what does this tell us?   

Most women are committed, ambitious and want to progress in their careers

They are willing to work hard, be flexible and make compromises to get their jobs done and have a family

They feel penalised as the ones who have to ‘juggle’, deal with ‘work/life balance’ and their careers suffer as a result.

Obviously, women can always ask for the right level of flexibility for themselves and during maternity coaching we often work on this.  However, it just seems unavoidably obvious to anyone who has given this even a little thought, that flexible working is the answer.  Not just at the point of return to work but always.

Here are 5 benefits of flexibility for organisations in relation to maternity leave and in general:

  • Increased retention and attraction of talent
  • Increased productivity – many people are more productive outside of the core hours of 7am- 6pm
  • More women in the workplace = more diversity = creativity
  • Increased job satisfaction – many more fathers want to take parental leave but feel the same pressures as women in terms of career progression
  • Employees who work flexibly take fewer sick days

 The research shows that well-planned and supported flexible working programmes can only benefit an organisation and their employees.  So what is stopping you?  Act now, improve your business outcomes and your culture.  In this week of International Women’s Day we say #balanceforbetter for all. 

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