When I was contacted about being involved in a government focus group on running small businesses, I was delighted. At last mothers are being included, I thought to myself. And it makes sense: to the UK each year, after all.
I accepted the invitation then added a note about bringing my four-month-old baby. It didn’t occur to me that this would be an issue; they’d asked a new mother to come and speak about running an online parenting magazine (, if you’re interested) – of course my baby would be coming too.
Until that point, he’d come along to meetings, breastfed while I Skyped and attended press events with me. But the event organiser said I’d need to arrange childcare. I explained that as he was exclusively breastfed – and I couldn’t express – this wouldn’t be possible for the four-hour meeting. But that he was a calm, contented baby and never cries (unless he’s hungry).
I was uninvited.
My formal complaint was all but ignored. However, rather than continue down the complaining route, I decided it would be more productive to instead offer some simple guidelines on how to make new mothers feel welcome in the workplace. Because mothers matter – to the workplace, to the economy, to your business.
How to make new mothers feel welcome in the workplace
Offer flexible working
Your priorities shift once a baby comes along but that doesn’t mean mothers don’t enjoy work. In fact, it can be a welcome change. So if a mother requests part time work, less conventional hours or to work from home – grant it. By not commuting or by working a shorter week, she’ll be reserving her time and energy for the bit that matters: the actual work.
Make it breastfeeding-friendly
Whether she’s coming in for a keeping-in-touch day, has returned to work full or part-time, or is in for a meeting – make it clear that breastfeeding/expressing is allowed. In the room with you, or in a private room that you have allocated (whichever suits her).
Consider the language you use
She may be returning to an old job after maternity leave or starting a new one – either way, it’s important that she feels welcome and valued as an employee. Avoid saying anything that suggests otherwise, like: “You probably won’t have time for that, now that you’re a mother.” Or: “This promotion will be too much work for you now.”
Don’t make assumptions
Motherhood is different for everyone. One woman may decide to adjust her working week to fit in with her children – and climb the ladder more slowly – while another will feel inspired to go for a new promotion. Just because she’s had children, it doesn’t mean she’s lost all ambition. Don’t assume.