Women count the career cost of having children

Only one third of women returning to work after starting a family say that the time away did not affect their career progression, according to new research commissioned by Santander.

The study of over 2,000 women showed one in four mothers had changed careers after having children, to better suit their family life.  The same proportion had switched jobs to one which was less professionally rewarding but was better for their family.  One in eleven mums have taken a career break to focus on their family, and 6% say that they have given up work altogether as they could not juggle work and family life.

Simon Lloyd, HR director at Santander UK, says: “These findings show that companies need to do more to help women achieve a suitable balance between family and work that allows them to achieve their career aspirations. We believe that the loss of talented, experienced women from Britain’s companies is one of the biggest challenges that need to be overcome if the UK is to compete in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.”

The research examined the ways in which employers could help women catch up in their careers after taking time off to have children. Some 56% of working mums said companies should guarantee the opportunity of working in the same role as before they had children, but on a more flexible or part time basis.  Some 33% would like companies to give mothers the opportunity to work from home, providing that their role is not fixed to a specific location.

Thirty per cent of working mums think that companies should put in place tailored career development plans – both during pregnancy and after they return to work – which are specifically designed to help them catch up in their career.  A quarter of all women, whether mothers or not, believe that working mums should be given mentoring or coaching to help them catch up in their career after returning from maternity leave.

The ways in which companies could help working mums reflect the choices women made when taking up their current role, with flexibility the key consideration.  Some 28% of working mums said that the ability to fit their hours round the school day was the most important factor, while 24% said it was flexible working.  Money is only the third most important factor for working mums, with just 17% putting salary as their number one consideration.

The long-term career prospects within the company were cited by only 8% of working mums as the most important factor, compared to 21% of women without children.

Michelle Ryan, Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology, Associate Dean for Research in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Exeter University, commented: “Obviously many factors come into play for a woman planning a family, as each individual’s circumstances will be different.  However, it’s clear that employers need to create workplaces which offer real flexibility that reflect the needs of today’s employees if we’re to see women appropriately represented at senior management level in the future.  We need a step change in attitudes to flexible working in order to help create diverse businesses that fully reflect society.”

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