By Stephanie Wilcox (Middlefield, CT)
Is it becoming harder and harder to be a working mom? Yes, if you look at the number of women who throw in the career towel once they start families, finding it challenging to transition back to work while maintaining work/life balance.
Fortunately, many firms are implementing programs to keep women in the loop about news on clients and office changes while they are on maternity leave, making it easier to welcome work back into their lives. If more firms take advantage of these programs, then working moms will have an easier time. In fact, it’s to the firm’s advantage that they be implemented.
It is now more important than ever that firms attract and retain women. According to TD Bank’s recent corporate responsibility report, “Professional women who are returning to the workforce after an extended leave of absence represent an under-tapped source of potential leadership talent. As many as 37 percent of highly qualified women take time off for family responsibilities such as childcare and eldercare.”
Not only that, but there are more first-time mothers in the 30-34 age range today than the 25-29 range, according to a maternity leave report put out by Amanda Alexander, a professional coaching service for individuals and organizations.“With so many women working, and many of these women likely to be in a senior position when they go on maternity leave, it is essential that organizations take steps to retain these women in order to avoid severe disruption and expensive replacement costs,” the report says. “Yet, unfortunately, most organizations have not adapted to the changes around them, evident by the number of female resignation rates and discrimination cases over the past few years.”
The problem is flexibility. Amanda Alexander noted that a report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission confirmed that having a child is still the “leaky pipe” in women’s career advancement. While employers say they fully support flexible working for mothers, very few employees are actually taking it up. In fact, many women say their company – their colleagues, managers or HR departments – does nothing to help them return to work with ease, confidence and support.
“It’s such an emotional time, no matter how logical a person you are,” said one respondent in a Return to Work survey done by Amanda Alexander. “You go from being 100 percent professional to a year of being 100 percent mother. Then when you return to work you somehow have to combine being 50 percent mum, 50 percent professional, with expectations that you give 100 percent to each role.”
High Achieving Working Moms Need Flexibility
According to Amanda Alexander, professional women share certain defining characteristics and suffer from similar issues. These females are high achievers in professional roles who generally set themselves unrealistic goals both at work and at home, and their biggest problem is lack of time. Though these women value themselves and their abilities, they occasionally experience frequent self-doubt and low confidence. The stress can eventually affect their performance at work and/or their ability to switch off at home.
For an organization looking to retain employees after maternity leave, they need the following: a consistent policy toward women returnees; support structures for confidence building when it comes to returning to their job and how they will be perceived by colleagues and manager and how they will cope with balancing the demands of motherhood and career; a personal or group coaching program to support returnees.
Coaching for Moms Returning to Work
A report by TD Economics, Career Interrupted [PDF], suggested that the professional and financial progress of women is often hampered by long absences. In 2010, the Back to Work Program was launched by TD and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, helping career women return with a fresh business knowledge, professional networks and new confidence. The program is for women seeking positions in middle management, and it spans nine days over a period of three month with free childcare. TD even provides scholarships for four of the 30 women in the program.
A coaching program, like the Back to Work Program, should look at the before, during, and after phases of maternity leave, says Amanda Alexander. The Maternity Leave Report explains that coaches will help to consider a mixture of practical and emotional issues – making the announcement, deciding on whether and how to keep in touch, maintaining relationships, keeping in touch, effective communications, working on confidence levels, getting up to speed with projects, re-integrating into the company and setting boundaries, among others.
According to Lynda Gratton, London Business School’s professor of management practice, “motherhood is one of the main points at which women fall off the career ladder.” With the help of these programs, it doesn’t have to be.