Ruth Moody
October 4, 2022

Nurturing return to work mothers – and why return to work mums are good for the business too.

Mothers returning from maternity leave. Wait! Don’t navigate away just yet, even if that isn’t you. Research shows that women in senior positions equal better financial performance. Yet many organisations struggle to retain female talent after maternity leave.

On the business’ side, poor retention rates after maternity can take on an almost inevitable quality, and leave leaders scratching their heads as to how to overcome the conundrum. While from the new mothers’ point of view, frustration stemming from a lack of understanding coupled with navigating a major change can push returning mothers to depart the business. So, if women in the workforce equal better performance, how can organisations support their employees, get them back up to speed and retain new mothers?

Maternity coaching has been shown to achieve this. It means more women who perform effectively after returning from maternity, more women who feel positively about their employer and more women who are likely to stick around in the future. For organisations that are serious about their long-term success, helping mothers to do their job effectively is a no-brainer.

The state of play for returning mothers

For both parties, maternity leave throws up concerns and challenges. From the organisation’s point of view, concerns over managing workload and maintaining smooth operations tend to arise. Fears around retention may come to the fore. Oftentimes, organisations have good intentions and a genuine desire to help and to hold onto their returning mothers, yet lack the confidence or skills to achieve this.

From the women’s point of view, they fear that attitudes towards them will change, that their employer will no longer view them as ambitious. They are going through a period of transition which is challenging at any time of life. Extra pressures, such as a change in personal commitments, responsibilities or working hours exacerbate tensions brought about by the transition back to work.

In the course of the work I do, mothers returning from maternity leave tell me that they struggle with how to do what is necessary for their job and for the business in the time that they have available. For example, if they are working part-time or have changed their hours, they worry about how they will get things done. Another fear that crops up regularly is that they will be overlooked for promotions, as the change in their life and the perception that their employer no longer views them as ambitious could lead to an unconscious dismissal of their abilities before the race has even begun.

Why employers should focus on retaining women, especially women in senior positions

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) surveyed two million companies across 34 European countries. In a working paper published in 2016, the research produced some compelling statistics. The IMF discovered that:

  • Swapping one man for one woman on the board would lead to a 3-8% increase in profitability.
  • Balancing the gender split of a board (without increasing the size of the board), would also lead to an increase in profitability.
  • In fact, the IMF report says “across all measures and in all samples, higher share of women in the decision-making team is associated with better financial performance.”

Supporting mothers who are returning to work from maternity leave, and retaining them long term, isn’t just a box-ticking exercise. If senior leaders are seeking reasons to increase retention rates among mothers returning from maternity, they will find them in abundance on the bottom line.

And that’s not all. Talent that’s already in the top ranks is the easiest place to concentrate retention efforts. What about returning mothers in a more junior position? Maternity coaching isn’t a quick fix. Like any serious development initiative, it’s about taking a long-term view. If firms are serious about securing the long-term future of their organisation, they would do well to think about preventing a mass exodus of their returning junior talent. These post-maternity women are the pipeline of their future leaders. Holding onto junior returning mothers means talent can be nurtured through the ranks, rather than having to recruit expensive – and scarce – senior leaders later on.

Why coaching is so effective at managing the maternity process

In my experience, it’s not only mothers who view returning to work as a minefield littered with personal and professional challenges. Organisations do recognise that maternity leave can prove tricky to handle effectively. More and more I see businesses being proactive and taking steps to improve the process. For the most part, what organisations lack is the know-how to confidently make changes.

Coaching is an effective way to help manage the process of maternity leave, because it provides benefits to both parties:

For mothers returning to work:

  • Coaching is a confidential conversation where mothers can share challenges and receive support. They feel valued and that they are very much a part of the organisation.
  • Coaching helps returning mothers find ways to overcome the challenges they are facing. As a result, they feel that they are back up to speed in their role faster than without coaching. This leads to a sense that they are doing a good job and contributing effectively.

For the organisation

  • By offering coaching support, employers demonstrate that they value the work of returning mothers.
  • Employees who get back up to speed quickly after time away perform well, which is beneficial from a business perspective.

Coaching is effective at unpacking challenges and difficulties because it allows for a thorough exploration of the issues in a safe space. Mothers returning to work might not want to approach a colleague or senior leader with difficulties. Maybe they feel uncomfortable discussing highly personal situations. Organisations who provide an external coach demonstrate that they recognise there may be things a returning mother needs help with and that, as an employer, they really do want to support the people that work for them.

Of course, as with any coaching initiative, there must a genuine desire for change and not just for ticking a box. All of the usual pre-requisites that go along with coaching have to be upheld: there needs to be a thorough needs analysis to begin, a commitment of time to achieving objectives, and recognition that coaching is not a fix-all.

Research from Ernst and Young suggests maternity coaching has a positive impact

In 2013, Ernst and Young made public details of the work they had put into maternity coaching and the findings that emerged. For those returning mothers who had been through either group or one-to-one coaching, some interesting statistics emerged:

  • 75% of those participants felt valued
  • 65% said that it helped with their personal challenges related to their job
  • 61% said it helped their engagement and maintained relationships with stakeholders
  • More than 50% said they would remain with Ernst and Young in the future
  • The retention rate for women returning to work after maternity leave was up 5 percentage points to 95%

No doubt that the numbers look great for Ernst and Young. However, it does suggest that the transition from work to maternity leave, and from maternity leave back to work, is much better managed once coaching support is received.

Diversity, inclusion and gender: good for business

Becoming a parent is one of the most significant transitions anyone goes through in life. In the same way that coaching is offered to someone moving into a senior role, maternity is another type of transition that benefits from coaching support. It equips the individual with a way to overcome difficulties quickly, which means better performance for the organisation.

Keeping women in business is better for the business. Maternity coaching demonstrates to returning mothers that their contribution is valued and indeed desired. This positively impacts engagement, smooths the transition back to work for both parties, and ensures that female talent is retained.

If you’re unsure what maternity coaching might look like in your organisation, don’t worry. I'd be happy to talk through the practicalities and the benefits of coaching mothers returning to work in more detail. Call me on 07931 502519 – I can’t say I'll have an answer immediately. What I can say is that I'll help your organisation find the right way to empower and retain your returning talent – after all, they are some of your most valuable assets.

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