What a week it has been watching the debate around working women, their choices and when they should return to work after having babies – all thanks to a glamorous Jackie O crossing the street while feeding her baby.
Not only as a working mother myself, but as Leader of an all-female team with more than half of them being career mums with children (the majority being 5 years or younger), I know it can work.
I have successfully retained high performing young women after they have had babies, successfully employed new returning to work mums part-time and have successfully integrated the two worlds myself.
Before the media blow up earlier this week, I often advise clients about how part-timers can actually work and how the business doesn’t need to fall in a heap if a key staff member takes time off for parental leave. 10 things I recommend to help it work:
- First reactions – I remember the first time one of my top Consultants told me she was pregnant. She was so nervous and scared that I would be angry that she was going to be leaving the business when she was performing so well. I was delighted for her and kept the conversation focussed on her and this exciting time in her life. There is plenty of time for the planning discussions around when, what, who and how at a later stage. Don’t take the shine off such a personal moment.
- No pressure – I don’t put pressure on any employee to return to work. I have had some take 6, 9 or 12 months off for parental leave. Of course you need to know in advance to plan for their absence, but there has never been an expectation of it being sooner rather than later.
- Flexibility – the key to making it work! I have always given the returning to work mums the free reign to say what days/hours they want to work when they return. I then do my absolute best to accommodate them within a structure that also works for the business.
- Encouragement & empathy – if your baby is sick and you need to go home, go! Don’t sit at your desk feeling guilty. Remember Health 1st, Family 2nd, Work 3rd.
- Job ownership – each Consultant has had their clients managed while they are on parental leave. This has given new/more junior Consultants the opportunity to step up and take on more responsibility. The returning Consultant has then been given their clients back on their return – this was a big incentive for Consultants who had been with the business for many years and had built up many long standing relationships.
- Support systems – without question, Consultants are given remote access, car parks, iPhones and admin support to assist if and when they are working from home. This is essential for teamwork, flexibility and communication.
- Continuing reviews – regular one on one catch ups to honestly assess whether the arrangements are working for the individual and the business and whether they need to be re-negotiated or adjusted where necessary.
- Lead by example – by preaching work/life balance and flexibility as the Leader you need to ensure you are walking the talk. People will be guided by your behaviour and make their own assessment of what the ‘internal culture’ really is.
- Acknowledge FT employees – for part-timers to really be effective in an organisation and especially a small team, the glue that often holds it all together is the full-time employees. I have learnt it is critical to acknowledge their support and contribution.
- You can’t win them all – as much as you want all top performers to return to work after having children, it isn’t always the case. I have certainly lost a few along the way through their own decisions about it not working, deciding to give up work altogether or taking the opportunity to have a career change. In these circumstances all you can do is give them the best offer you have available and then wish them well if it doesn’t fall your way.
All in all, these tips have been some of my most successful retention strategies over the years. In making it easier for these women to return to work with part-time, flexibility and support, I have gained their commitment, loyalty and respect.
The business wins too – we have retained key clients who want to deal with the same faces every year, the profits have increased (as part-timers usually generate similar revenue to their full-time counterparts and in some cases – more), reduced costs in re-hiring and being able to give internal employees greater opportunities to increase their skills and knowledge.
So can working women successfully return to work after having babies? YES! It’s a two-way street that requires a committed and realistic employee coupled with a flexible and understanding employer.
Can you make it work?