Work Unsupportive After Maternity Leave?
By Charlotte Ashton – MLP Law
Returning to work after maternity leave can be both daunting and an exciting break from the wearing routines of parenthood. Many women will be keen to return to their careers and seeking to progress at work. However, the results of the MMB Maternity Returner survey make shocking reading, with 37% of returners feeing so unsupported and isolated on their return that they wanted to leave, and 41% reporting that they had not been put forward for promotion after returning and finding that their career stalled.
When returning from maternity leave, many women find themselves subject to assumptions about their future family plans or, worse, asked outright when “the next one” will be. Instead of being included in discussions about work or business development, women can find that all discussions now revolve around their children. Such comments might seem like harmless small-talk, but can actually create an environment where women feel unvalued and as if they’re assumed to be less serious about their careers because they now have children.
In addition, if someone has returned part time, they can often find themselves overlooked for workplace events on the assumption they may not want to attend. Business networking events are often held at times which may be difficult to attend once children are on the scene – breakfast sessions may be too early and evening sessions may be too late. This can all add to the unsupportive environment cited by women in the MMB Returner survey.
Someone who may have come back to work in a totally committed mind-set can find that quite quickly they feel isolated and outside the progress of the business.
The long term effect of this is that a woman can feel her career is stalling without being able to pinpoint exactly why. Often it’s a combination of these factors that create the obstacles and lead to women regrettably leaving their careers after starting a family.
Whilst we have had anti-discrimination laws since the 1970s, it’s clear more needs to be done to support women returning to work. It may be that although employers are alert to the possibilities of obvious discrimination and seek to address these, it is the indirect effects of actions and policies which can continue to cause problems. As an example, most employers know it’s wrong to ask women about their family plans in a formal setting such as an interview, but may well make the type of comments in day to day conversation that suggest they believe the employee is more focused on home and children than work.
How can you tackle this?
As an employee, you can speak to your boss and explain you want to know about any events or opportunities and set the parameters for what you can and cannot attend. If you feel like you are continually excluded, despite having raised this, you can raise a grievance about your treatment. Eventually this could lead to a claim on grounds of sex discrimination and constructive dismissal if things don’t improve.
As an employer, you should take care to ensure that you don’t make assumptions about employees who have returned from maternity leave and that all opportunities within the business are open to everyone. It’s always worth reviewing your policies and procedures to see if there are any areas which could place women or parents at a disadvantage.
If you would like advice on how to tackle issues at work, or ensure your environment is one which is supportive for all employees, please let us know at: firstname.lastname@example.org or @HRGuruUK on twitter.