Promoting parents – ‘Lots of wasted talent is out there’


promoting parents

Returning to work after pregnancy can be a minefield for new mothers – and their employers. Bosses want to keep valuable female talent, but new parents will likely have different needs than before. Is there a way to make everyone happy at work?

It is a thorny issue. A recent government consultation found widespread evidence of new parents facing prejudice in the workplace, with an estimated 54,000 women a year feeling they have to leave their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity discrimination.

Pregnant women and new parents will receive greater protections from redundancy under new legislation backed by the government on 21 October, the Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination Bill, which will mean protection from redundancy will now apply to pregnant women as well as new parents returning to work from a relevant form of leave.

But for many women and employers, including in the bridging sector, the issue is less blunt than redundancy and is more a complex dance about trying to accommodate new and changing expectations to keep valuable female talent.

Roz Cawood, director of sales at bridging lender Hope Capital and a mother who returned to work, can see the situation from both sides. She said asking mothers about their needs is “vital”.

She said: “What your intentions were leading up to the birth could be completely different afterwards, so ask returning mothers what they need and within reason offer flexibility that accommodates both them and the business.”

Announcing its new Bill around maternity and work, the Government said businesses will gain from improving employee relations and reducing conflict that can be costly and time consuming.

Family-tailored company policies and benefits in general could achieve the same, said Cawood, such as allowing for flexibility, whether its hybrid working from home, reduced or flexible hours, or job sharing.

“And if the company is big enough, what about an onsite creche?” she added. “One of the biggest issues with young children is the distance between the workplace and child care.”

Some employers, such as the Bar Council in the legal profession, offer mentorships for returning mothers, pairing them with a mentor to share her (or his) experience in one-off situations. Others provide so-called “returnships”, to help women who have been out of their profession for a while ease themselves back in.

Appetite for this exists in bridging: “When I had my children there was nothing like that to support me which I would have found invaluable especially as there is a lot of mum guilt felt by working women,” Cawood said.

Employers who are approachable and understand parents’ situations will reap big loyalty rewards. “Mothers often go above and beyond as they feel that they must overcompensate for any flexibility they receive”, Cawood said.

Unequal distribution of child care arrangements is a big problem for women navigating a return to work after pregnancy.

Latest data for the Government’s flagship policy for driving a societal shift towards more equal parenting – the Shared Parental Leave scheme introduced in 2015 – suggested that in 2019/20 take-up among eligible fathers was just 3.6%, well short of the Government’s 25% target.

Dena Thompson, head of credit and risk at Tuscan Capital, said it is “essential” to understand return to work issues apply to all new parents and not just mothers.

Companies should ensure their policies cover all parental scenarios, she said – from adoption, surrogacy, fostering, and emergency guardianships, to fathers that are primary carers.

Another friction point can be time out of the office for family-related issues. Thompson advised companies to “be clear and fair on your policy for appointments, whether to the doctors, adoption meetings, or check-ups”.

“You need to clarify from the outset whether these will be paid or unpaid, and if you will require proof of appointments. You should be open to being flexible for higher risk scenarios that may mean additional monitoring/bed rest,” she said.

Companies may want to ensure any private healthcare provision covers pregnancy-related health issues: “A lot of standard ones do not and, if possible, offer the option to cover the whole family,” said Thompson.

Employers can consider making childcare vouchers available or choosing offices near childcare providers, she said, and facilities should be made available for women who breastfeed, such as a private clean area for pumping and refrigeration space.

Another practical employer tip from Thompson is create a clear plan for employees to quickly hand over work should they unexpectedly be unable to work.

She said: “If their child is sick and they need to leave immediately, employees should consider who they would hand over to and how. Is it feasible for them to be expected to make up hours later or at weekends? If this is outlined early on then it reduces stress on both sides.”

If possible, employers should be mindful of scheduling important meetings or other commitments for school drop off/pick up times and allow the option to attend remotely by Zoom/Teams, she added.

Almost half of working adults were working from home at times during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Office for National Statistics. In February 2022, after all Covid restrictions were lifted, its survey found more than 8 in 10 workers who had to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic said they planned to hybrid work.

Lessons learned during the pandemic about the limitations of office-based working can also make it easier for working mums to progress in their career.

“Flexibility, flexibility and flexibility!” said Thompson when asked how to advance female talent in bridging. “Lockdown has shown that sitting at your desk from 9-5pm is not the only way to be efficient.”

Parent-employee support groups should be encouraged, she added.

“These would let co-working parents connect, share resources and find community with other parents whilst working”, and companies should “find ways to educate employees not only on their career paths, but also how to manage their career progression alongside life as a parent”.

Equally importantly, said Thompson, companies should educate the rest of their managers and colleagues towards getting rid of the stigma surrounding working parents.

“For instance”, Thompson said, “maternity leave is not a ‘holiday’ and leaving early to pick up your child is not ‘slacking off’. Attitudes need to change.”

Most importantly, one employer’s loss is another’s gain in terms of parents-as-employees.

Companies should have a plan on how to re-integrate new parents into their companies – and not just in terms of existing employees, but with an eye to poaching neglected employees elsewhere, Thompson advised.

“Act like you would towards a graduate or apprentice; one company’s loss is another’s gain – there is a lot of wasted talent out there,” she said.