Recently the results of a survey of almost 2,000 UK working mothers suggested that many feel that they suffer discrimination because of pregnancy or maternity. The findings report that women in this position feel left out or not taken seriously at work after having a baby. Two out of five believe that colleagues who do not have children are given more support and encouragement.
I notice that the language connected with the responses is all about feelings and beliefs. I haven’t read the original report so I don’t know if this is a paraphrasing of what the respondents are saying. It’s easy to say “I believe”, “I feel” (I come across this in grievance all the time). But what are the facts? I would want to see the evidence before I accept that this is in fact what is happening. Contrary to what the respondents are saying the FSB argues that SMEs are family-friendly on the whole and often have a family-feel to them. Most try hard to accommodate their staff during this period, allowing for changes to their working schedules and flexible working wherever possible. That’s certainly my experience.
While there are undoubtedly employers who behave badly and even unlawfully when it comes to pregnant employees (and that is an absolute disgrace in this day and age),it occurs to me that as a group, women may be sending out rather mixed signals about work, pregnancy and maternity.
Many, perhaps most, women want to change their hours when they come back to work. There are a number of very good reasons for that. It’s important to spend time with our child, especially in these formative years. And the demands of a baby are considerable; as many of us now leave it until our 30s to have a baby, we’re not always as energetic as we were, so the constant, unrelenting care regime hits us harder physically and many working women are simply exhausted. Most of us are besotted with our babies and it can dominate our life, which means we have less time and attention to work. In my experience, at this stage of life most returners want to be able to work at their original job, be able to work flexible hours and have as much holiday as possible so they can spend time with their baby.
If the employee has changed and her focus is elsewhere – even if that is wholly understandable – is it all that surprising that employers also respond somewhat differently to the employee, albeit not unlawfully? For many years I have been saying that gender equality is about having a choice, not about doing or having it all. Compromise is essential in life.
Coming back to work and managing the status quo is one thing. Most of us can’t be the mother of a very small baby and climb up the career ladder at the same time. If we can, fine and good. But if we can’t give the commitment in time or energy to senior roles, maybe we should tread water for a short while until we can. Whether you like it or not, the top jobs all come with a price, whether you’re male or female. That price is time. I have yet to meet a CEO of any successful company (of either gender) who only works 40 hours a week.
Family-friendly flexible working is here to stay. It can be easily managed with a bit of forethought.
Here are my tips for managing flexible working:
- Keep communication channels open during maternity leave; you are much more likely to learn about an employee’s referred options earlier.
- Communicate fully and honestly
- Plan forward
- If there’s likely to be a flexible working request, allow time to plan and implement a working plan and processes
- Keep an open mind
- Negotiate options
- Look for win-win solutions
If you have to say “no” to a statutory request to work flexibly give one of the permissible reasons e.g. not enough work available at the times requested and have concrete evidence to support your decision.
If our organisations are family friendly we will be attractive to prospective employees so you can attract better candidates and choose the best talent.
He’s looking at ya, baby!
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