Ah, the joys of parenting! If you’ve got children, you’ll know that it’s pretty damn difficult, and costly, to return to the workplace post-parental leave – as if you needed that extra stress! What should your organisation be doing to ease your transition?
You’re coming to the end of nine months (give or take) parental leave and my guess is that you’ve never felt less “in the zone”. You’re sleeping an average of four hours a night, haven’t had a shower in three days, can’t remember the last time you had a conversation about something other than nappies, Peppa Pig or puréed carrots and you’ve got 2157 emails, and counting, in your inbox.
Returning to work after having children is tough for numerous reasons; leaving your child(ren) in someone else’s care (and paying a hefty fee for the privilege), negotiating flexible working conditions, re-adapting to work and taking a sizeable pay cut to name but a few.
The true cost of maternity leave
It won’t come as a surprise that women are the most economically punished in this scenario.
A recent UK study by PwC, entitled “The £1 billion career break penalty for professional women” revealed that women returning to the workplace post-parental leave are losing out on an average of £4000 anually.
Numerous reports have considered the hours worked (around 100 p/w) by stay-at-home mums and calculated their deserved salaries (in excess of £100,000) but we aren’t living in a dream world. Most women, in some capacity, have to return to the real world and they sure as heck aren’t earning what they deserve or filling the roles that reflect their experience and skillset. Indeed, PwC’s report suggest that two-thirds of women are working below their potential when they return to work and one in five are moving into lower-paid roles.
The stigma associated with CV gaps and a lack of workplace flexibility in many organisations are both contributing factors to these concerning statistics, but there is some hope! By fully utilising the female-returner workforce, the UK could add £1.7 billion to its economy. And a number of organisations are recognising this and taking promising steps to implement programmes that make the transition back to work seamless and accommodating for working parents.
Here are a few examples:
1. Offer mid-career returnships
Think you might be too old for an internship? What about a returnship? Returnships, open to men and women, are a growing trend in UK businesses, aimed at helping those who have taken extended career breaks by updating skills and easing people’s fear about big CV gaps and a lacking or out of date skillset.
Women Returners explain that “Returnships are higher-level internships which act as a bridge back to senior roles for experienced professionals who have taken an extended career break. They are professionally-paid short-term employment contracts, typically of 3-6 months, with a strong possibility of an ongoing role at the end of the programme.”
And the benefits are two-fold with the employer benefitting as much as the employee. They gain access to a high calibre diverse talent pool and are given a low risk opportunity to assess a potential employee’s suitability for a permanent role.
Companies in the UK who currently offer returnship programmes include PwC, Deloitte, 02, Mastercard and Virgin Money. You can take a look at the full list of companies offering returnships and what these programmes entail here.
2. Let the dads parent too!
The easiest way to prevent parental leave destroying careers for women is to level the playing field for all genders.
The concept of paternity leave is still a fairly new one. Sweden became the first country in the world to introduce paid parental leave just forty years ago and, whilst more than half of EU countries have followed suit since then, the uptake is still low. Men are reluctant to take their full entitlement of paid leave because of the cultural stigma attached. Most companies and countries offer far less leave for men than women and it sends a message: “Men don’t really need parental leave.” Fear of judgement, lost career opportunities and lack of role models all contribute to the lack of uptake.
When men and women are offered, and start claiming, paid parental leave in equal measure, it becomes everyone’s problem to find better ways of accommodating this leave within businesses- and that’s when change happens!
Some of the trailblazing companies include Netfix, whose parental leave policy allows parents up to a year of flexible paid leave, Amazon, who launched “Leave Share,” allowing Amazon employees to share their paid leave with their partners and Spotify, who offer six month full pay to all parents.
3. Build a creche
Flexible working is crucial for parents upon their return from a career break. Employees who are offered flexible work options such as being able to work from home, and at hours that suit them could be the difference between a parent returning to a senior role and having to take a more junior position, for which they are overqualified. What does it matter if one of your top employees leaves at 3pm each day to collect their children if they’re willing to work late into the evening to get the job done?
We talk a lot on Procurious about better assimilating family life with the workplace and whether it’s becoming more acceptable to bring your children to work. A number of companies are better providing for their employee parents with on-site childcare facilities. Goldman Sachs, for example, opened London’s first on-site creche in 2003. It currently offers staff four weeks free care to ease the transition back to work from parental leave.
In the U.S. a third of Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for provide on-site child care.