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Supporting mothers back to work

(17 Posts)
wanderingalbatross Fri 12-Oct-12 21:03:51

I was chatting to a friend today, and she is involved with a new initiative in her workplace to encourage mothers* back to work, and to support them during the time they are on leave or returning to work. I think their aim is eventually to improve the number of women in senior management by providing extra support at what can be a critical time.

So I thought it was an interesting question to put to MN - what things do you think companies could do to help mothers returning to work after maternity leave?

* I think the scheme is for fathers too, if they take paternity leave, but at the moment that is a far lesser issue for them as they are a big tech company

wanderingalbatross Fri 12-Oct-12 21:10:55

I should say that I put this in feminism because I think that ground lost at work when you're on maternity leave can be hard to make up. Particularly if you have 2 or more lots of leave. And anything that works to redress the balance has to be good for women.

AllPastYears Fri 12-Oct-12 21:15:11

Surely the biggie is flexible working. Women are still responsible for most childcare issues - whether it's doing the school run, taking time off in school holidays or inset days, going out for an hour to watch a school play or taking the day off because the child is ill and can't go to nursery/childminder/school.

The holy grail I guess is a school-hours, term-time only job, but even if that is not achievable there are plenty of options that help. For years I've mainly worked during school hours, though I've had to work through the hols as I only get the usual 6 weeks, but I finish work when the kids finish school and that is such a plus. I've also been able to take time off at short notice (usually making it up later), and again this is a huge benefit. Worth far more to me than any pay rise/gym membership/corporate xmas party.

AllPastYears Fri 12-Oct-12 21:17:06

Just remembered, when my kids were pre-school I did a different kind of flexible working, starting at 7 and working till lunchtime. This cut down on childcare costs as we were paying for mornings only, but could work longer than just mornings, and it left me half a day with the kids.

wanderingalbatross Sat 13-Oct-12 10:10:15

I agree that flexible working is important, and I also work in the tech industry where it's really common to allow flexible working for men and women.

I'm also wondering whether there's anything employers can do to help new mothers make up ground that they may have lost due to leave? Or if they should? I can see that people might think it's unfair for returning mothers to get extra career help when returning from a 'year off'. But equally if you're an employer who has a capable woman who happens to have been on leave, do you have a duty to provide extra support so you don't lose out on their potential?

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Sat 13-Oct-12 10:26:05

Encourage the men in the company to take split paternity leave, or at least not keel over in shock if it's suggested. Ditto flexible working.

EmmelineGoulden Sat 13-Oct-12 11:21:06

In the tech industry especially I think targeting returning mothers for training in the latest technology would be good, since one of the issues with taking any time out in tech is that your skills can get out of date fast.

Returning mothers could be fast tracked into training for the newest techniques to jump start them back into the work place as the experts and leaders they were before they went on leave, rather someone playing catch up.

Also a well managed mentoring scheme could help, making sure a returning mother has a peer they feel able to direct seemingly trivial or operational questions at, but also someone higher up who can help fill in the more strategic pieces.

There are some things I don't think you can actually make up for. The less time you have spent doing something, the less experience you have. So time out does have a material impact on your expertise. But companies can make sure they don't sideline returning mothers onto the rubbish projects, especially just after they return, that just rehash old skills and don't give the opportunity to gain experience that will help them move forward. It seems to be a common problem for returning mothers, but one that most men who happen to take a year's sabbatical for something don't seem to have to deal with.

WidowWadman Sat 13-Oct-12 21:43:11

"Women are still responsible for most childcare issues - whether it's doing the school run, taking time off in school holidays or inset days, going out for an hour to watch a school play or taking the day off because the child is ill and can't go to nursery/childminder/school."

Why on earth does that have to be the case? In an equal relationship surely it's down to both parents.

That you can't really be in a responsible management position whilst working only school hours during term time is a no-brainer. The way out of that is not restricting yourself to a school-hours only job.

Dozer Sat 13-Oct-12 22:27:38

They should bear in mind that childcare etc often gets more difficult when DC go to school, not easier.

They might look at whether "presenteeism" is rewarded, eg people who put the most hours in get the best work/opportunities/promotion/access to senior people.

BlingLoving Sat 13-Oct-12 22:54:27

I think flexible working across the firm is better than specifically targeting women or parents. It creates a culture where everyone has the ability to do more with their days than just work and I believe a lot of people who aren't parents would live that flexibility.

Also women returning should feel welcomed. It's a small thing by dont give her workspace to someone else; make an effort to introduce her to new people etcs etc.

fishface2 Sun 14-Oct-12 23:39:26

Well said widow! Women who have a smooth return do so because their partners are sharing the responsibility so maybe the answer is flexible hours for patents not just mother's. The sooner this attitude of women doing the bulk of this and that the better! Perhaps they need relationship counselling so they can renegotiate the chores!

crackcrackcrak Mon 15-Oct-12 00:14:38

Another vote for flexi. If its a task orientated job that doesn't need so many core hours this can work really well for mothers. I'm a SW. I work flexi. I do late visits etc when I have the childcare and rack up toil which I take either to spend extra time with dd or have a rest when she's at nursery. It works well for me and I am a lp as well.
What doesn't work is my manager's expectations sometimes of part time flexi. He seems to think I will come in and do stuff on my non working days because I can claim the time back. I bloody well won't - my 2 days a week I don't work on are dd's scheduled activities and I will not miss them - plus I have no childcare! I have had a full on row about this and refused to back down. I will come in for court appearances only and even then I will check if a report is sufficient (depends on each case) before I agree to attend. I will seek emergency childcare for these instances only.
I have the means to work at home but this is a mixed blessing and encourages uber time. I will only work at home on specific urgent tasks and claim the toil.

wanderingalbatross Mon 15-Oct-12 09:01:51

Flexi is definitely a good thing, and I agree with bling about flexi for everyone. I'm lucky enough to have a job where this applies, and everyone (male/female, parents/childless) really does take advantage smile

lol@ relationship counselling! But maybe if companies did offer it then they'd get their money back in increased productivity!! Maybe relationship counselling is a bit far, but I think some good careers advice at the point mothers return to work (or go on leave) would be beneficial.

What about if the company had some money specifically to throw at the problem? Most don't, but I wonder whether there's anything they could pay for that the (long-term) benefits are worthwhile?

AllPastYears Mon 15-Oct-12 12:53:58

I wasn't meaning to suggest that only women - or indeed only parents - should get flexible working arrangements. Just that it particularly appeals to mums, because like it or not, equality isn't here yet.

Numberlock Mon 15-Oct-12 13:01:46

One thing that annoys me beyond belief at work is the question from male colleagues when I'm away on business "Who's looking after your children".

The biggest thing that needs changing is the attitude that it's just the mother's responsibility to look after the children. I'd love a company culture where men in senior positions are leaving early to do stuff with their children, coming in later so they can take them to school, discouraging so many meetings that mean overnight stay when video conferencing would work just as well etc etc.

And also I'd like to see these men also encouraging their colleagues to do the same instead of staying in the office till all hours.

Sadly a colleague told me that his boss came into his department at 6.30pm and asked him where all his team were; he said they obviously couldn't be committed if they weren't in work at that time.

crackcrackcrak Mon 15-Oct-12 13:02:53

Flexi can be a double edged sword for parents though. Just had a friend who is an HE tutor explain (she is in a team of 3) that one team member insists on working a few evenings a week doing not much so he can take Fridays off (no kids). So it leaves the other two short on Fridays. When they complained they were told - yes but actually we need you do do similar - great - expectation to work evenings for parents - when there isn't structured childcare that makes mr no kids look all dedicated and flexible and the other two look difficult.....sigh

Sabriel Mon 15-Oct-12 13:30:15

When i returned to work after 9 months ML my maternity cover liked the job so much she stayed on, and someone else had transferred in. One was doing my job and one had taken my desk. Now legally that is correct because you only retain the right to return to the same job after OML, but it isn't nice to come back and find you are surplus to requirements.

Things did get better but as someone who'd been in the same position said, once you are seen as a "mum with a baby" they don't see you as fully committed. They stopped suggesting me for additional work and trips to other locations etc. The worst thing was when the other 2 got offered temp promotion and I didn't even know it was a possibility until it was all signed and sealed.

The really daft thing was that I'd been there 9 years, and had originally started as a mum to 4 school-aged children.

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