One of society’s major challenges in today’s workplace is the retention of top female talent. According to the Careers After Babies Report, there is a 32% drop off of women at senior level which leads to significant issues of the Gender Pay Gap and lack of diversity. It is proven that more diverse leadership teams are more profitable so why aren’t companies doing more to support women at that pivotal life moment where we see the gap really opening up: becoming a Mother?
The mindset shift
Given that women make up 50% of the population and by the age of 45, 82% will be mothers, we can deduce that entering into parenthood is often a big point of change in a woman’s career as well as in her life in general. The stats are confronting: 85% of women leave the full-time workforce within three years of having children and 19% leave the workforce entirely, despite more than 60% saying that they were more ambitious since having children.
As the cost of living, inflation and interest rates have seen steep rises, households more than ever need dual incomes to stay afloat. So why is it that our C-Suite is still only 25% female?
One issue is the astronomical cost of early years childcare in the UK meaning that it just is not economically viable to return to work before your child is at least 3 years old.
Home vs work
Another factor is that during maternity leave in particular, the majority of the management of the household and children falls on the mother’s shoulders, and this can then continue even after she returns to work. This extra burden of additional tasks and mental load means there is often no bandwidth or time available for a full-time job.
The physiological and emotional changes that a woman goes through during pregnancy, childbirth and the post-partum period lead to huge hormonal shifts and leave women being vulnerable to depression, overwhelm and anxiety whilst battling with external factors such as sleep deprivation. Sadly, many women report to just not feeling well enough to return to work.
And some women simply choose, if they are able to, to spend more time at home with their children as there has been a fundamental shift in priority.
Flexibility and corporate support
In short, women returning to work after maternity leave, need additional support and flexibility, in order to continue their career progression. So, what does this look like and how can companies adapt and make a real difference?
It can start with something as simple as sensitive line management. Providing managers with the training and tools to have open and honest conversations is a great starting point. Remembering that everyone’s motherhood journey is different and not making assumptions is key.
Appropriate benefits being in place can underpin the entire process and should be fundamental. Whilst there are some fantastic offerings out there such as coaching for mothers returning to work, subsidised childcare hours and Carifit, which offers a complete parental leave support system, there is still a real gap in the market for parental leave benefits and they are not yet prioritised.
The focus has to date been (rightly so) financial, and as we see this improving by and large it is now time to think outside of the box and understand what new mothers really need to thrive during maternity leave and come back to work the best version of themselves. That has been the focus of the Carifit Corporate Wellbeing program.
Wellbeing has become a notable priority in recent years with the McKinsey Women in the Workplace 2022 Report stating that women leaders are significantly more likely than men leaders to leave their jobs because they want more flexibility or because they want to work for a company that is more committed to employee wellbeing and DEI. 17% of women leaders cited the Organisation’s commitment to wellbeing as a reason why they quit their job in the last two years, with around 55% of women leaders and around 70% of women under 30 considering it to be an increasingly important factor. We can therefore extrapolate that maternal wellbeing more specifically must also be a very important consideration.
In response to this, we have seen in recent years a degree of “Wellbeing Washing” with the employee benefits market being flooded with products and companies grabbing at solutions to try and “Tick that Box” without a proper strategy in place.
Wellbeing is not a one-size-fits-all proposal so it is important to tailor packages to reflect the needs of different groups of employees. Sometimes these products have large upfront subscription costs for the entire workforce and then engagement from employees is limited, resulting in budget wastage that could be spent more effectively. This resonates even more as insurance premiums are set to increase, meaning that the coffers for additional benefits are likely to be squeezed even further.
The important thing is to choose the right benefits that will be the most effective, especially at a time when budgets are tight for businesses too.
About the author:
Zoe Johnston is Head of Carifit Corporate Wellbeing. Carifit supports all new parents by offering a 360° approach to education and advice via the app and Carifit+ carrier. Understanding all too well that each parenting journey is very different, the Carifit app has an entirely personalised user experience that guides and educates parents with trusted, reliable and expert-led health and wellbeing support. Powered by a panel of experts including GPs, Paediatricians, Women’s Health Physios, Clinical Psychologists and Sleep Trainers, the Carifit app is on-hand to support during those first weeks, months and years. You can find out more here.
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