Masterclass: How to help a maternity leave returner

Having a conversation about the new mother's career goals and the value she can add will avoid assumptions being made

Employers can be distracted by the most basic things when it comes to maternity leave returners – breastfeeding facilities should be as commonplace as fire doors, with more consideration given to the bigger picture. New mothers are an incredibly valuable part of the talent pool, and as an employer you have a responsibility to help them navigate having a baby in a way that doesn’t impact on their long-term career. 

The first step in supporting women during and after their pregnancies is ensuring they are thinking of their careers as a long game. Assuming an individual begins working at 22 and finishes at 65, the window where they are caring for young children is relatively brief, but when your baby has been the sole focus of your attention it can be easy to forget you had a career beforehand and will probably want one afterwards. 

So when a new mum returns to the workplace, have a conversation about her career goals, the value she can add and how she wants to move forwards. Some new mums may want to tread water while others will want to get back on track, but it’s important to encourage them to talk about it instead of just making an assumption for them.

It’s equally important to be accommodating around options with flexible working. Women with children are phenomenal time managers, so dropping down to four days of work a week does not necessarily mean stepping off the career path. 

Despite this, you should still set boundaries: make it easier for new mothers to request a reduction in working days or hours, and give them agency in how they want to be contacted, whether over the phone or email. Technology is great for facilitating this; you can use shared calendars, Google Docs or Slack, which can make it far easier to work from home than getting caught in a commute.

One of the simplest, cheapest and most effective things an employer can do is team the returner up with a mentor – someone who has been through the same process maybe a year or two before. They know the company culture, can advise on practical things like topping up pension contributions and making sure bonus payments are up to date, and can help navigate the emotional journey. This is a positive, easy win, and one that is often missed.  

Finally, it’s important to attend to the ecosystem around your returner. Co-workers should respect that she is coming back with lots of value to add, and be conscious of the business case for taking advantage of that talent. 

Lisa Unwin is co-author of She's Back.

This article was originally published in People Management. Read the original article.

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