Organisations Should Do More To Better Support Mothers Returning to Work.
Organisations should be more supportive of working mothers. Working mothers often need a combination of flexible work, suitable childcare arrangements and supportive colleagues to transition back to work successfully.
Returning to the workforce after taking a career break to raise children can prove challenging. The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) stated in 2017 that women are more likely than men to interrupt their careers to raise children, and in 2016 a survey conducted by PWC estimated that there were over half a million professional women in the UK on extended career breaks so they could care for others. These interruptions are perceived to have implications for women's
subsequent careers. Successfully re-engaging this talent pool of highly qualified women will help address skills shortages and improve gender diversity.
A research study I completed in 2021 as part of my MSc in Organisational and Business Psychology aimed to understand how such a break impacts working mothers' career choices from the perspective of professional and managerial mothers. Twelve working mothers participated in semi-structured interviews providing valuable insights into factors underpinning their career decisions when returning to the workplace.
The results indicated that finding suitable childcare and flexible work arrangements, such as working from home or reduced hours, were vital considerations for mothers returning to work. Barriers to returning to work included mothers lacking self-confidence and/or difficulty in finding suitable part-time positions and organisational cultures that encouraged long working hours.
All the participants had taken roles that enabled them to maintain work-life balance. They had returned part-time and/or taken lower status jobs to combine the demands of motherhood with work successfully. Organisational culture influenced many of the women's decisions about returning. Those who had worked for organisations where long hours and out-of-work socialising were expected norms chose to work for more family-friendly employers when they returned. These findings confirm how a culture change may be needed to retain high performing female employees.
Career coaching was not offered to any participants. If more organisations offered this, women could be better prepared to combine a career and motherhood and feel more confident in proposing solutions to suit both employer and employee. Offering coaching and enabling women to share their expectations about returning to work could be of real benefit to returning mothers and their employers.
Deciding when and how to return to work after a career break is complicated and heavily influenced by individual circumstances. However, organisations should take further action to open up more flexible opportunities for those wishing to return and continue to follow a fulfilling career path, whilst also enabling them to enjoy motherhood.