A recent report (pdf) from the European commission revealed that more mothers in Britain are failing to return to full-time work after maternity leave compared to their EU counterparts. In 2013, the percentage of women in the UK who were unemployed or working part-time due to family responsibilities was 12.5%, almost double the EU average (6.3%). The report called this a â€œsocial challengeâ€ â€“ one the government aims to address by improving childcare provisions and increasing free childcare for working families.
While these improvements are an important step forwards and may help more women increase their working hours, the drive to get more mothers to return to work goes beyond childcare. To avoid losing a huge pool of talent from the workforce, employers must understand that there are a number of issues to be addressed in order to fully support women returning to work.
Confidence may need to be rebuilt
In my experience, the decision is not always a purely financial one, but a matter of confidence and self-belief. â€œAm I capable of returning to work?â€ is a question many women are asking themselves.
This confidence gap may be due to being away from work for a long time, as well as the fear of how some recruitment agencies and employers may perceive their CV gap. This can often lead to mothers feeling disconnected from the world of work and makes the prospect of returning feel all the more intimidating. It is imperative that organisations get behind these women and focus on building confidence, remembering that skills can be sharpened and developed at any stage of oneâ€™s career.
A supportive workplace culture is crucial
More companies should have programmes in place that provide practical support and guidance to returners. It can be a daunting experience to re-enter a competitive and fast-paced environment, especially whilst still caring for young children. Employers have a responsibility to give mothers returning to work not only the encouragement but the tools to help smooth this transition.
Development programmes, technical skills training and access to mentoring and networking, for example, can help women feel prepared to return to the workplace and also link them with peers in similar situations.
Donâ€™t underestimate the power of professional networks
Professional networks can be enormously helpful, connecting individuals with supportive employee groups. Most large companies have employee-run networks such as LEAD (Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Development) which offer useful links with other professionals and access to a variety of programmes providing support and training to help with career development. Our own LEAD network just celebrated 10 years of promoting professional womenâ€™s development to help grow and retain strong and successful female talent.
The demand for a skilled workforce is intensifying and mothers form a huge pool of skilled talent, so it is more important than ever for businesses to tap into this resource. Investing in programmes that address the barriers involved in returning to work can help companies avoid this skills shortage. And significantly, a better gender balance brings diversity of thought, which strengthens companies and drives economic growth â€“ so everyone benefits.