Becoming a mum is undoubtedly a significant milestone in any woman’s life, and a responsibility which many women choose to take on full time in addition to their career. Unfortunately, what should be a noble vocation often hampers a working mum’s professional prospects when she does decide to return to her job following a career break to focus on childcare responsibilities.
A recent study has confirmed what thousands of working mums have suspected for quite some time now – that employers are more likely to hire an under-qualified candidate, then one who has taken a career break. In this blog, I take a look the current state of affairs for mums returning to work, and why employers need to shift their biases to support female talent.
The career break penalty for Working Mums
It’s no secret that working mums who take time out of the workplace suffer discrimination as a result. New research by Mumsnet reveals the level of pregnancy and maternity discrimination working mums experience from their employers. In their 2018 study, 96 percent of working mums surveyed said having children affected their careers for the worse.
In addition, research commissioned in collaboration with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in 2016 found that 11 percent of women reported they were either dismissed or made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job.
Furthermore, 20 percent of working mums reported other financial loss which included failing to gain a promotion, salary reduction, a lower pay rise or bonus, not receiving non-salary benefits and/or demotion.
Research commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), found 1 in 9 working mums said they had been fired or made redundant when they returned to their company, or were treated so badly they felt forced out of their job. The same research estimates 54,000 women a year may lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity.
Why Employers need to support Mums returning to Work
It’s important to note that preventing working mums - with years of professional experience under their belts - from fulfilling their full potential simply because they have taken a career break is not only detrimental to women themselves, but also to the businesses which discriminate.
According to research by PwC, the challenges faced by women returning to the workplace costs the UK an estimated £1.7bn per year in lost economic output. Furthermore, employers who follow biased and discriminatory recruitment practices also deny themselves access to an untapped talent pool.
Many working mums who decide to take career breaks have a wealth of valuable experience and creativity but find the route back into a senior business position trying at best, due to diminished confidence and a CV gap. This often leads to would-be returning (and valuable) working mums turning their back on corporate life, joining smaller local companies, developing their own business ventures, or focusing on voluntary activities.
The way forward to support Working Mums
Despite the progress the UK has made in terms of improving opportunities for women in the workplace, there is still underutilised potential to be found in mums returning to work following a career break. For this reason, the UK Government has announced its plans to boost protections for pregnant women and new parents returning to work.
The consultation - which launched in January 2019 - proposes that the legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women and working mums on maternity leave is extended so that it continues for up to six months after they return to work. It will also seek views on affording the same protection to parents returning from adoption leave or shared parental leave.
The Women Returners Professional Network has also been instrumental in connecting companies with mums who want to return work but have a lengthy gap on their CV. Returnships are higher-level internships which act as a bridge back to senior roles for experienced working mums who have taken an extended career break.
They are professionally-paid short-term employment contracts, typically of three to six months, with a strong possibility of an ongoing role at the end of the programme. Working mums take on commercially significant work based on their skills, interests and prior experience, obtaining a supported route back to a professional role.
Another way that a growing number of companies - such as KPMG, Unilever, Booth Ainsworth and Crowe Clark Whitehill - support mums returning to work is through providing flexible working arrangements. While many businesses are still dragging their feet in this regard due to the misconception that flexible working decreases productivity, research from the CIPD shows that implementing flexible working practices can actually improve staff engagement and motivation.
These methods offer a practical solution to attract and support highly-qualified, experienced and professional mums returning to work. Not only do mums benefit from the opportunity to showcase their talent and enhance it through dedicated training sessions, but businesses can also gain the maturity, stability and wisdom of seasoned professionals returning to work.
Find out more about how you can support Working Mums
At Search, we are fully committed to gender equality, inclusiveness and equal representation. As such, we’re tremendously proud of our board of directors comprising four working mums and leaders who have been instrumental to our success as a business over the years. Contact us at one of our offices to discuss how we can help you grow your business by tapping into the UK’s highly experienced and professional talent pool of working mums!