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Zoe Brown’s diary was even busier than usual one Thursday. In the morning, she was booked in for a C-section, then at lunch time, she was scheduled to be back at her desk running her web design company. An extreme example of dedicated work ethic, perhaps, but not a unique one.

Women are worried that maternity leave could be harmful to their careers

Sadly, it’s all too common that women are worried taking maternity leave will be harmful to their career, and many are now returning to work far earlier than the statutory 52 weeks they are entitled to.

One such example is that of Rachida Dati, France’s Minister of Justice, who returned to her office five days after giving birth. She was fearful, according to reports, that maternity leave could jeopardise her position. Her worries may have been fuelled by a survey by InterExec which revealed that over half of head-hunters recruiting for a salary of £150,000 or above believe that women should return to work immediately after childbirth, if they want to be considered for top jobs.

Martina Klett-Davies, senior research fellow at the Family and Parenting Institute, has given her thoughts on the matter; “The ideals of good mothering and work place norms are in conflict, It’s becoming more and more accepted that women can raise a family and earn a living, but the dilemmas facing mothers are greater than ever because parenting has become so professionalised. Childhood has been given over to experts who offer conflicting advice on what kind of childcare is most effective, the right time to leave your child, and mothers who would once have relied on tips from their parents now feel they must have evidence-based advice.”

Zoe Brown and Rachida Dati are just two examples of mothers who have felt driven back to work quickly after having their babies, however there are many more mothers out there who feel that they need to return to keep their careers afloat. Whilst many companies do offer a maternity package above Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), there are many that don’t, and with costs rising across the UK for many families, going back to work early may seem the only feasible option for many reasons. However, returning to work early can lead to a range of issues.

Workplace discrimination

It may be illegal to sack a woman who is pregnant or on maternity leave, but that doesn’t stop working mothers feeling that they are being discriminated against when they return after their baby is born. A survey conducted by legal firm Slater and Gordon found that 54% of working mothers felt their employers did not support them enough, despite 35% saying they felt they had worked harder upon their return than before they had their child/ren. This is in addition to the 27% of women who said they felt pressure to return to work earlier than they wanted to (for a range of reasons) and 29% who felt they had been “passed over” for a promotion, purely because of their parental responsibilities.

51% of working mothers have also stated they feel the attitudes of colleagues change toward them when they announce their pregnancy, especially those who do not have children themselves. This is then heightened upon returning to work, as parental responsibilities do mean at times that flexible working/absence is unavoidable.
(Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-23600465)

Guilt at returning to work early

Mothers may feel that by returning to work early they are doing the best for their family, as well as their career, but the person who walks back into the office after having a child, is likely to be an altered person to the one who left it. Whether their previous job is waiting for them or they have been moved into something else, their attitude towards the workplace now must also take their feelings and responsibilities towards their baby into account, as well as the guilt of leaving such a small baby with someone else.

According to Jennifer Liston-Smith, maternity consultant at Myfamilycare, guilt can really undermine self-esteem and make many mothers feel as if they are not pulling their weight at work or home because no matter where they are, they’re not doing the right thing – at home, they’re not working, and at work, they’re not with their child. Employers really need to be aware of this and ensure employees feel supported at all times.

Starting over

There are cases where returning to work means starting a new job entirely or changing roles to fit in with changed circumstances; for those mothers, the situation can be tougher.

Keira O’Mara, creator of Mama Designs Ltd, was made redundant while on maternity leave so had to start a new job when she returned to work. She found that her confidence had taken a real hit and her new full time role was a struggle. After changing to part-time hours, she still felt unhappy and in the end left to focus on her own business, and now works flexibly from home.

It is important that employers try to not only support working mothers, but also understand that their role as a mother gives life to a whole new host of skills. Negotiating with an overtired toddler is worthy of a boardroom audience at times, and time management skills raise to a whole new level when you have someone other than yourself to get ready whilst keeping to schedule, and it’s crucial that this is recognised within the workplace. Life experience is key to success in any industry, and at VST we understand this. We are proud to be a Working Mums award-winning organisation, recognised for implementing ‘mum and dad friendly’ flexible hours to help our staff manage their work/life balance so that all parties are happy.

If you’re looking for a career within a company that understands challenges of parenthood and the need for work-life balance, visit our careers pages or call Hannah on 01604 609 940.