Why bringing working mothers back into the fold is the ultimate ROI

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Article provided by Helen Tinnelly, founder of the training and development company Propelelo

The world of work has changed virtually overnight, as the pandemic prompted a fundamental shift in how, where, when and why people work.

This re-evaluation has led to a Great Resignation as thousands of people who bided their time during the pandemic decide that now is the moment to change jobs. With job vacancies soaring, it is a jobseeker’s market, and many employers are pulling out all the stops to attract new recruits. 

Yet while this plays out, one group has been left behind again — mothers. 

Adjusting to the new normal

Mothers were disproportionately affected by Covid restrictions closing schools and reducing the availability of childcare. Research suggests women did 173 additional hours of unpaid childcare during the pandemic, compared with 59 hours for men. In addition, women have been left to adjust to the new normal — trying to navigate the benefits of home-working and flexible hours — while rebuilding their careers after maternity leave.  

Current volatility in the jobs market is unlikely to ease the existing brain drain of new mothers. With nearly one in five professional women (17%) leaving employment within five years of having a child, this is a waste of experience and talent at any time. But against a backdrop of skill shortages, it’s little short of criminal.

Bringing mothers back into the fold

At a time when staff retention should be an increasing priority, pay statistics show that new mothers are still disincentivised from returning to work. 

Research conducted by the salary comparison company Payscale found that women performing the same role as men earn 7% less on average when coming back after an extended absence such as maternity leave. This pay gap impact is more acute between the ages of 30-44, a period when many men are promoted into management positions while women either don’t return to work or go back in a reduced capacity. 

Instead of allowing this experienced talent pool to ebb away, employers should recognise that bringing working mothers back into the fold as smoothly as possible has multiple benefits, both now and in the future. 

The bottom line

An exodus of mothers disadvantages companies that should be trying to close gender pay gaps and boost levels of representation and diversity in boardrooms. 

There is a clear business case for advancing women leaders. A study of Fortune 500 companies has shown that those with higher representation of women on boards financially outperform those with the fewest female members. 

The UK Government’s Gender Pay Gap Bot, which tweeted the gender gap of all organisations posting in support of International Women’s Day last month, showed the gulf between words and action in this area. This leak in the pipeline drains the female talent pool at the middle management level causing issues with female representation in senior management.

Firms that employ large percentages of female staff are associated with higher levels of job satisfaction and employee engagement for all workers, regardless of their gender. Diverse working environments also foster greater innovation and make it easier to attract new employees.

The loss of skilled and experienced women from the workplace directly affects the corporate bottom line. The price of replacing an employee can be 50%-200% of their salary when factoring in processes like recruitment, onboarding and training of new staff. Add to that the loss of knowledge and experience when a skilled worker leaves, as well as the impact on team projects and morale, and there are clear costs to bear. We estimate that for a 5000 FTE company, the loss of these mothers can work out in the region of £200k a year.

What is the solution?

Businesses need to take a three-pronged approach to ensure women feel encouraged to return to their careers after maternity leave.

First, they must assist with the provision of affordable childcare. Too often mothers find wages are swallowed up by nursery or childminder fees and there is no longer a cost-benefit to going back to work. This has to be addressed by parental leave policies and support aimed at both mothers and fathers.

Second, it is crucial that firms recognise the importance of — and thoroughly explore — flexible working options for women returning from maternity leave, including broader shared leave policies. The pandemic has opened minds about the benefits of hybrid working and compressed hours, but employers need to be equally willing to create suitable environments for working mothers and establish clear boundaries between work and personal time.

It is also important that organisations put more emphasis and resources into training and development. A long absence from work can leave mothers feeling ‘out of the loop’, potentially sapping their confidence and enthusiasm for coming back. Training and development will help women hit the ground running on their return and also deliver an immediate benefit to the business as they fit seamlessly back into their role. Employers should also provide access to support networks, where women can share stories and be inspired by female role models. 

By taking these positive steps, businesses will help break a cycle that allows far too many women to slip out of the working world, promote gender equality and be rewarded with happier and more loyal employees. 

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