Why are we so negative to mothers in the workplace?

Recently I connected with three women at different stages of the pregnancy journey and transition to motherhood.

Mothers in the workplace - Woman in a cream cardigan holding her baby What they have in common is that they are all incredibly smart and talented; the companies who employ them have invested heavily in their careers or in attracting them into their business; and these companies outwardly champion gender diversity, supporting the pipeline of female talent and having more women on their boards.

The reality is all 3 high-potential women have been subjected to clumsy and offensive behaviour, at times when they were vulnerable. Communication lacked the respect you would expect to be shown to them in their workplace. Their loyalty and desire to return to their respective companies has been put in jeopardy.

Sat around a table of predominantly female HR executives discussing the challenges of persuading their fairly traditional male line managers to support a new maternity coaching initiative gave me another insight into this behaviour. The program has been signed off by the Board and CEO and shown to give a strong return on investment based on the level of annual fees billed by a pilot group of women and the investment made in their careers to date, but is being met with internal resistance because it affects bonus pools.

All those in question are not alone in their collective inability to see their colleagues during a time of slowing workplace output and productivity as the long-term, valuable and worthy assets to the business that they are. But this is the cultural problem we need to change.


In making a #PledgeforParity as part of #IWD2016 I commit to challenging the levels of conscious and unconscious bias demonstrated towards mothers in the workplace, and how we can help mothers and business grow together.

Many women say they don’t get it until they have a child of their own. Fathers have the option of shared parental leave but often decline because of the real or perceived view that this will have a negative affect on their career.

Parental Leave: where are the fathers?’ shows the UK is well below the OECD average in terms of paid leave it offers to men and employers told Working Families they’re implementing shared parental leave in different ways. Some mothers don’t want to share their time with their newborn, believing they are the most capable primary caregiver yet there is growing evidence to support a fathers’ importance in the period from conception to age 2.

Unless we all learn to manage maternity and paternity differently, treat mothers-to-be with greater respect and address the many levels of bias we hold, I believe the corporate world will always struggle to retain its top female talent.

I am well aware a woman’s choice to have a baby is her own and her return is based on many factors. But a well planned and generous maternity policy will be undermined by a fixed mindset against flexible working or subtle comments that pour doubt on a successful return before the baby has even arrived.

When a woman announces her pregnancy to her line manager and team the response will be something she always remembers. Those first few weeks are tough to manage for most and announcing the news at work is rarely something a women will relish.

When other younger women in the business hear comments that are made, they often accept the subtle but purveying culture that undermines maternity and working mothers. They buy-in to the belief that their choice to start a family or fulfill their career ambitions is an either/or.

When employees take a sabbatical or further their skills through company approved training programs there is support and encouragement. When women become mothers they gain untold skills that are overlooked and disregarded.

Bumps and the Boardroom started as a series of conversations to discuss how to manage maternity differently. Further inspired by the Equalities Commission report that highlighted the rising level of maternity discrimination working mothers face, it aims to reframe the way maternity leave is perceived.

Inspiring a corporate culture that nurtures talent and embraces the value of feminine-led traits which motherhood can release is possible, and will help men and women at all stages of their career.

Bumps and the Boardroom aims to become an inspiring and interactive tech platform to celebrate and elevate mothers and champion the corporates who are open to change and doing things differently. Our aim is to help business to prosper and mothers to lead.

Our Crowdfunder venture isn’t just a movement for women – this is for men, women, potential and existing parents everywhere who believe in motherhood without sacrifice and want to see more parity for mothers in the workplace.

Lisa Barnwell is the founder of Bumps and the Boardroom and launched a campaign this week on Crowdfunder to reframe the way maternity leave is perceived and revolutionise the way mothers and business grow together. Find out more here

Lisa Barnwell
About the author

Lisa Barnwell has over 15 years experience working with more than 2000 women and their corporations through the pregnancy journey and transition to motherhood. She is the Founder of Bumps and the Boardroom and leading the campaign “Changing 100,000 Lives” which aims to positively change the maternity journey of 100,000 women and girls by 2020. www.lisabarnwell.co.uk @Bumpsnbabyguru @BumpsHQ Facebook: www.facebook.com/bumpsandtheboardroom

Related Posts