The issues surrounding maternity from the perspectives of the professional mother, line manager and HR professional can be complex and sensitive.
Managing these issues with confidence and clarity throughout each stage of the maternity process is vital to all parties in maintaining effective working relationships. A professional mother who feels supported and valued is far more likely to return to work.
If the business fails to retain key talent after maternity leave it can suffer a significant impact to succession planning, as well as the bottom line. But there are a number of ways organisations can help smooth the transition and minimise the damaging discrepancies in the experience of different women resulting from inconsistent or ineffective management.
1. Carry out an audit to determine the current experiences of women and their managers through maternity. What works? What needs changing? How do the firm’s policies measure up against those of competitors?
2. Train line managers in effectively handling maternity legally, practically and in an emotionally intelligent way. Help them understand the different stakeholder perspectives – extended team members, the pregnant colleague, the client – and how to best manage expectations.
3. Ensure that HR professionals and partners manage maternity in a consistent way across the business and know how to support the line as well as the individual. Move away from procedure to value-added support.
4. Have clearly defined procedures in place to handle each stage of maternity effectively:
• Pre-leave and handover
• Making the return a sustainable success
5. Think of positive ways to stay in touch with individuals when they are away from the office and agree on how often, when and how to communicate with them.
6. Offer coaching for women moving through this complex transition. It helps them take control of their own experience and be more proactive in finding what works well for them, as well as increasing productivity, motivation, loyalty and retention rates.
7.Offer focused coaching or development sessions for the line manager. Give them confidence to manage the transition instead of going into avoidance. Women often report that they leave the business during the transition because their relationship with their line manager goes awry.
8. Give line managers advice on the legal boundaries, practical measures and an understanding of key sources of anxiety for various stakeholders – the women, clients, the extended team – as well as their own apprehensions, biases and limitations.
9. Don’t back away from having conversations with returners about career aspirations and short- to medium-term career goals. Timely and well constructed conversations can be very beneficial for all parties.