Child’s play: managing maternity discrimination in your workplace
Last week, figures published in the Equality and Human Rights Commission report detail how many women face discrimination in the workplace due to pregnancy. The headline figures (set out below) were shocking and although more needs to be done, it is encouraging to read that 84% of employers believed “it was in the interests of their business to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave” and that “it was important to provide support because it increased staff retention.” Even from the employee’s view, four in five mothers said their needs while they were pregnant were supported willingly and three in four of those returning to work said their needs as a new mother were supported willingly.
Whilst we need to do more and continue to support women and working families, we also need to think about how we address this on a managerial level. Managers should think of pregnancy and maternity leave as one of the easiest management issues. How many periods of absence do you have time to manage and effectively recruit for? Pregnancy/maternity leave is not an obstacle, it is just logistics, which, with planning, can be effectively managed. If the leadership approach in such a way, it will go towards creating a more loyal, stable and productive workforce. Here are some possible ways to achieve this.
1. Time off for Antenatal care
“10% felt discouraged from attending antenatal appointments…”
Many are asked to schedule their antenatal appointments ahead of time and towards the beginning or the end of the day, but the reality is that most are just told when the midwife is available and given a time to attend. It is not easy to manage the time and usually the clinics are near the individual’s home. Often the answer is to permit the employee to work from home that day, so they can fit the appointment around work. However, overall it is important to have a clear lines of communication to ensure that managers/employees can plan as much as possible to ensure minimum disruption to the business.
2. Treatment pre/during/after maternity leave
“One in five new mothers – as many as 100,000 mothers a year – experienced harassment or negative comments from colleagues, employer or manager when pregnant or returning from maternity leave…”
Any form of harassment or negative comments should be formally or informally addressed. However, managers should consider that leadership sets the tone in a business, and should therefore lead by example. The way a company deals with logistics of pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work should be starting point. If maternity leave is thought of as a “pain” then this will flow through the tone of the company and will encourage negative behaviour. As a manager you want to make sure you are working as a team with your employees to address any periods of absence, even giving them ownership of the interim recruitment process.
3. Return to work
“10% of women said they were treated worse by their employer after returning to work after having a baby…”
Returning to work post maternity leave is a hard transition for most working mothers. In some cases, it is starting a new job again, but with added family pressures and tighter time constraints. If budgets permit, I would suggest three action points to assist with the transition; firstly permit the individual to take any accrued holiday days during the first few months back, maybe 1 or 2 days/week. This may mean shorter weeks for the first few weeks, but is helpful in ensuring the returning mother gets back up to speed at a manageable pace. Secondly, ensure there is a handover period from the interim cover. This usually takes a few weeks as well. Thirdly, managers could consider offering maternity coaching with external coaches who work with prospective mothers and new mothers before, during and after maternity to coach them through each transitional phase and make sure they are getting the support they need from the business.
Overall, getting back into work post maternity leave usually takes a month or two and managing expectations on this all round will be helpful for all parties concerned.
4. Pressure to leave
“7% said they were put under pressure to hand in their notice…”
Employees should never be pressured to “hand in their notice”, under any circumstances. If the working arrangement is not working, hours need to be changed, days working from home need to be changed, or if the individual’s performance is not at the acceptable standard, the manager needs to deal with such situations via the appropriate procedure. In addition, I would recommend that any change in working arrangements should be reviewed regularly, maybe every 3 months for the first 9 months back at work, with the right to make adjustments if the arrangement is not working.
5. Effect on remuneration and opportunities
“One in 20 reported receiving a cut in pay or bonus after returning to their job….Even when mothers were given the chance to work flexibly on their return to work, around half said it cut their work opportunities and they felt their opinion was less valued…”
This is something I come across quite often when interviewing senior lawyers; how opportunities were affected after maternity leave or due to a change in working arrangements. Remember the phrase “if you want something done ask a busy person”? That is a working parent. More hours does not mean more efficiency or better value, it just means the individual had the time. Value your employees, male/female, with or without children, based on the value of their work and not by how many hours they spend at their desk.
In the face of this report, let’s not forget the positives. We have made significant progress since the late 90’s when many of the pregnancy and maternity leave and policies came into force and we are still evolving, for example, shared parental leave. However, on the behavioural level we still a need to train leaders not to see maternity leave as a business challenge which will impact negatively. More often than not it can be an opportunity to give someone internal a development opportunity or even bring in some new skills. Overall the right approach to managing maternity creates retention and a loyal, motivated workforce.
This article was first published in Personnel Today in August 2015: http://www.personneltoday.com/hr/childs-play-managing-maternity-discrimination/
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