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One in seven women lose jobs after maternity leave

Firms failing to return women to former roles, survey finds

11 March 2013

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Over one in seven women do not have a job to go back to when returning from maternity leave, a recent survey has found.

In addition, it found that nearly one in ten women returned to work to find that they had been replaced by their maternity cover. Many said their jobs had changed for the worse.

The findings are based on an online poll commissioned by Slater & Gordon, which received responses from 1,000 women in the UK.

Illegal changes to employment

The poll found that 14.8 per cent of mothers did not have a job to return to after taking maternity leave and that 11 per cent of women had been replaced by their maternity leave cover.

For those women who did return to work, 40 per cent felt the job they went back to had changed from the job they had left, with almost half saying that it had changed for the worse.

The most common change to employment was a reduction in hours (44 per cent), while more than one in ten experienced increased working hours.

Over a quarter of women who requested flexible working arrangements following maternity leave were refused, while 17 per cent were refused the right to work part time.

Fifteen per cent of respondents said the changes meant they were overlooked for a promotion or career progression opportunities.

Samantha Mangwana, an employment lawyer at Slater & Gordon, said: “The statistics revealed by this survey are sad and shocking. It is against the law to be sacked or treated unfairly because you are pregnant, or taking maternity leave.

“More than half of the women polled suffered in silence because they were either unsure of their rights, they didn’t know where to turn for help or they thought seeking help would damage their future career prospects.

“New mothers are especially vulnerable since it is often the first time they are wholly responsible for another life.”

Need to reintegrate women after maternity leave

A failure to adequately reintegrate women following maternity leave can have serious implications for firms, which face losing talent they have made significant investments in training.

However, the Slater & Gordon survey found that, on returning to their jobs, almost a third of new mothers felt that they didn’t fit in at work anymore.

Seventeen per cent said they lacked the support they needed, with a similar amount saying they felt there was a lack of understanding about the difficulties of juggling their duties of new motherhood with work responsibilities.

Nearly a third said they started resenting coming into work.

“Having made the decision to return to work, women are keen to re-establish their professional identity and credibility,” said Kate Buller, a founding partner of Executive Coaching Consultancy, in her Managing Partner article Mind the gap: How to reintegrate female talent after maternity leave.

“Women return to work with a great deal of enthusiasm and drive, only to find that their colleagues and partners are not expecting or planning for this. They want to pull their weight, having been away, often feeling guilty that colleagues have handled additional pressures.

“It is important at this time to ensure a challenging and realistic workflow. This builds confidence at a time when women are especially vulnerable. Regular meetings with partners are important to ensure that the workflow is appropriate and to provide constructive feedback.”

Stress levels on the rise

The changes to women’s employment following their maternity leave took a toll not just on their finances but also their well being.

Eighteen per cent of respondents said their finances suffered as a result of taking maternity leave.

In addition, more than one in ten new mothers said they suffered physical or mental ill-health because of the changes to their employment. Four per cent said their relationship with their baby’s father broke down as a result of the changes to their job.

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