Conversations about gender diversity, equal pay, and more women in leadership roles, are ripe in workplaces around the world. The jury is still out on what is the fastest and most effective way to address these issues. But there is a way to level the playing field for the next generation. And that is by supporting new mothers to return to work after their maternity leave.
Why? Because women whose mothers had jobs, are more likely to have jobs themselves, are more likely to hold supervisory responsibility, and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home full time, shows a study by Harvard Business School. And these findings hold true across 24 countries.
Resuming work after pregnancy is a challenge though. Lauren Smith Brody, founder of the Fifth Trimester Movement, surveyed 732 working moms, and found that it took an average of almost six months after delivery, to start feeling emotionally stable. Though many returned to work before that period, it came with a strong desire to quit because of sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and overwhelm.
As colleagues and managers of new mothers, here’s how you can ease their transition back to work:
Help them rediscover what they enjoy about their work. More than education, or their designation, what drives women to keep engaging with a job, is the idea that they find it rewarding and fulfilling. It’s intrinsic, says this research by the Maternal and Child Health Journal. So, if you have someone returning after maternity leave, have check-in chats with them around the following themes:
- What do you appreciate about your job?
- How do you see yourself growing in your work?
- If you weren’t resuming work, what would you miss about this job?
- What do you need to balance your work life and motherhood?
Remember, this is not so much an interview, as it’s a process of dialing into the joy of work. Keep it light!
Offer options to phase back. New mothers often return to work full time, immediately after their maternity leave. And quit their jobs soon after, because they experience guilt about leaving their babies behind, and find it hard to focus at work due to energy depletion. This is a vicious loop. The solution? Offer part time choices, like coming to office thrice a week. Or flexi-timings, where women can choose when to work from home. And then scale this up over 4-5 months, to make it full time.
Though the discomforts or challenges of this transition phase are many, they should not be allowed to contain someone’s career or dreams. As work cultures evolve, there is ample room for our enterprises to become more family friendly. What steps are you going to take?