A recent spate of news reports has revealed a shocking increase in workplace discrimination against new mothers in the UK.
According to The Women and Equalities Committee the number of expectant and new mothers forced to leave their jobs has almost doubled to 54,000 since 2005. This intolerable level of discrimination boggles the mind and has me asking: “Why isn’t more being done to help rather than hinder new mums re-integrate into the workplace?”
A mum myself, I recognise that going back to work after a long stretch of maternity leave can be a daunting prospect. Your mind, body and lifestyle have all just gone through a fundamental shift and there’s no handbook of a, b, c’s to get you through it. But what if there was one at work? As Chief Operations Officer for Wunderman UK, I’m all about the agency’s smooth operation – but know that this is only achievable if all employees, parents or not – are happy. So I’d say instead of putting new mums off returning to work, why not enforce some basic support measures to get them back to the drawing board, re-energised and raring to go.
The buddy system
First off, why not put a ‘buddy system’ in place for women returning to work after maternity leave? We’ve already got one in place for new joiners – men and women. This system does what it says on the tin. Match a new mum to another parent (preferably a woman) at the agency, who’s experienced the similar complexities around parenting like the sleepless nights, non-existent ‘me-time’, weighing up the sacrifice of a cat-knap or a quick snack and just learning the steps as you go.
Buddies need to be responsible for holding monthly meetings with the new mum, making themselves available and open to discussing both agency and personal issues. But like any successful relationship, it’s a two-way street. Mums returning to work need to keep their allocated/chosen buddy informed on how they’re coping. If any problems arise, or struggles are encountered, my philosophy is to nip it in the bud and find a solution. Get yourself a buddy – get that confidant.
Parenting support group
Not reserved solely for new mums, this group should extend to parents in general. You might expect the attendance ratio to be heavily weighted towards women, but interestingly the team setting up this initiative at Wunderman are 40% blokes! We’re currently finalising this support group, which offers training across all areas of the agency. For example it’s a top down approach as well as a bottom up one. We want to offer training for managers who have parents in their team, so they’re mindful and have a better understanding of what their requirements are. But it’s also about bringing up discussion and inviting speakers to debate the topics that become more pertinent as you become a parent.
Get physical and get talking
Parents at Wunderman have teamed up to create a ‘Parents Wellbeing’ masterclass – to help new parents learn the art relaxing and to practice mindfulness – offering tips and coping strategies to manage those often challenging moments. Because parents are responsible for pulling this together – they’re heedful of the approach taken. So they are interviewing within the agency to identify the pressure points that people need alleviating. And that’s just one exercise to help achieve that often tricky work-life balance. We already offer work yoga classes but also looking to introduce mindfulness classes and health eating workshops?
Whatever you choose to do to make a working mum’s life easier, make sure to get the information first hand – make it organic to reflect what’s relevant at your agency.
Balance bonding with bread-winning
Life, work, family, it’s all about achieving an equilibrium… easier said the done when there’s a new baby involved. This is where agencies should be helping back-to-work mums with juggling it all, to make sure they don’t drop the ball, and if they do that they’ll be someone there to help pick it up. In my experience a phased return to the workplace often works wonders. Women fresh from maternity leave should get to a comfortable pace, make sure everything is sorted on the home front and gradually build back up to their contractual hours.
An agency that is flexible within reason will also be key to helping new mums find their rhythm and improve their performance. Dependent on the role, many new mums do often work on flexi-time or reduce their hours. However if the nature of the role and clients doesn’t allow for much flexibility it’s about starting back when the time is right and having support measures at the ready.
Every employee is different, they have their own pace, their own style, diverse ambitions. The same is true of new mums coming back to work. One size doesn’t always fit all. It’s about recognising what each individual needs and creating a bespoke plan, that’s fluid; incentivising and ready to evolve.
About the Author
Pip Hulbert is the COO at Wunderman UK