A pregnant pause – stopping the brain drain and supporting women at work
In terms of OECD countries, sadly Australia is still far from taking the lead when it comes to supporting pregnant women in the workplace, and what seems to be an eternal bugbear for employers – women on maternity leave. It is becoming an issue that simply won’t go away as the corporate arena in this country rapidly loses much of its female talent – either to start-ups, or simply to parenthood.
Unless we collaborate, the lack of female leaders now will drastically affect the pipeline of female leadership for tomorrow. There will be no funnelling of talent, no monitoring or active sponsoring of younger women, because the senior female leaders simply won’t be there to see these things put in place. The lost investment in talent, in smart, savvy, knowledgeable and strong women who are able to make a difference and ensure that equality is maintained, is astonishing, and yet organisations are willing to let this happen and incur the cost to re-recruit versus retain.
Why is this happening, and what active steps can both employers and employees take to ensure the brain drain stops?
There seems to be a serious lack of communication between both parties as soon as a woman goes on maternity leave. Considering that, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, most women spend a total of eight months on said leave, this is a long time to be in the dark about what is happening in the workplace, especially if the women taking this length of time out are project leaders or have managerial responsibilities. A business can change within a day, let alone two thirds of a year. Professional and social networks become disengaged from the employee, and consequently with the business itself.
Women should be informed and engaged even if they are not physically in the workplace. With one in four women stating that they return to work ‘because they are afraid not to’ (ABS) there needs to be greater motivation for them to want to come back. They are already facing challenges: emotional guilt at leaving a new baby, unconscious bias against mothers, flexible or part-time working still not being the norm, and yes, the cost of childcare.
What do I do next?
For many, maternity leave and the transition back to work is a major pinch point in whether they have a career or a job. With constant real situations of women being made redundant, or paid less, or sidelined if they choose to have a child, where is the impetus in saying ‘I want my career back and on good terms’?
Talk it up
This isn’t just the responsibility of employers, but it is where the dialogue needs to commence. Keeping women informed is paramount to successful maternity leave and return from the same. If they are secure in their knowledge that there is support and continued career growth, then the benefits will be far reaching, for the individual and the organisation.
- The ‘loyalty spin off’ affects all women in an organisation, not just those who are making this choice;
- Knowledge and corporate memory can be more effectively retained;
- Recruitment and re-training costs are able to be contained;
- Job sharing/secondment that has occurred during the leave can be used as a tool on return.
It comes back to open and honest communication, and this is where women who are intending to make the transition to motherhood need to step up and have a conversation before leaving the workplace.
Regular newsletters, catch ups and e-mail communication are all ways for both sides to feel engaged and informed. Employers being open about workplace decisions is vital, but so is participation from women on maternity leave. Coaching and mentoring are only going to give strength to a desire to return to work.
These are not expensive strategies and they are not hard implements. A healthy, progressive career path for working mums is well within reach. It simply comes down to a desire to have them in the workplace, and perhaps this is the biggest sticking point, for some employers at any rate.