Why 81% of women want to make a change on maternity leave (and why so few do)

Find why, while 81% of women say they want to make a change on maternity leave, so few do, and what we can do to help support mothers returning to their careers.

It comes as no surprise to us that recent survey by Mums Enterprise, the Career Woman to Working Mum report revealed that 81% of women want to make a change on maternity leave.

From talking to women over the past five years (and our own experiences) we know that going on maternity leave is an important decision point in our professional and personal lives.

Taking a break from work gives us chance to reflect on our lives

It’s an opportunity to step off the treadmill it’s so easy to find yourself on, and take the time and space to reassess whether your life is genuinely fulfilling. Do you love your job, your routine, yourself even, or is there something missing?

It’s all too easy to become comfortably complacent with a life that doesn’t excite us. With a career that’s not really our dream job. Or maybe we have hankerings not to work for someone else at all, and instead start our own business or go freelance.

Taking a break from the day to day routine of our working life allows these thoughts and feelings to come to the forefront, and demand answering. It’s a demand that’s all the more insistent when we confront the reality of leaving our baby with someone else at some point to return to that routine.

Do we really love our job enough to sacrifice being a mum 24/7 for it? And if not, what else is out there for us? What opportunities can we find or create?

The Career Woman to Working Mum report, which was compiled from the independent feedback of over 1,000 mums across the UK, uncovered other insights into the reality today for working mothers.

24% of women have had flexible working requests denied

Importantly, it highlighted the vast number of highly qualified women who are struggling to strike a balance between work and family life. 74% of women surveyed have over 11 years of professional experience and 62% of them left a position of management level or higher to have children.

And despite their clear experience and value to employers, these women had depressingly familiar experiences when it came to resuming their careers as a mother:

  • 24% had flexible working requests denied.
  • 18% had been forced to return back to work in a different role.
  • 15% had been passed over for a promotion.
  • 8% had been made redundant while on maternity leave.
  • 5% had returned to a lower paid role.

Unsurprisingly, the rather depressing post-motherhood work landscape has had a big impact on the health and wellbeing of women on on maternity leave. While 60% of women surveyed said that they were happy with their working arrangements while on maternity leave, when it came to deciding what to do after maternity leave this reduced to just 24%.

The reason for this was uncertainty – mainly because women don’t often keep in contact with their employer during maternity leave, and they’re worried that the world has moved on without them. (Find out how you can stay in touch with work during maternity leave using your KIT days.)

Mothers are anxious their job has changed

The report also highlights the high level of anxiety felt by women when trying to work out how their new family dynamic would work with their job. Many worry that the role of their job will have changed, or that they won’t be able to work late, stay overnight, travel for work and attend after work socials any more.

So it’s no surprise then that 81% of the women surveyed said they wanted to make a change while on maternity leave. But what kind of change are they considering? Here’s what they said:

  • 28% want to find more flexible work.
  • 28% want to return to their old employer on a part time basis.
  • 24% want to return to their old employer but on a flexible basis.

But while 81% of women said they had wanted to make a change, only 42% of them actually did. And of the 58% who didn’t make a change, three quarters of them admitted to being unhappier than they were before.

Why did so few of those women make a change? It came down to:

  • Lack of confidence.
  • Lack of money.
  • Childcare costs.
  • No family to help with childcare.
  • Lack of time.

We need to do more to support mothers

With more than 1 in 10 mothers affected by postnatal depression, it’s clear that we need to do more to support women across the UK, and help them to continue their career and use their skills and experience in a role they enjoy and are paid appropriately for, while being the mums they want to be.

So what can be done? We know from our work in the All Party Parliamentary Group Women and Work that there are people genuinely looking for workable solutions. And more and more companies like Shell are offering return to work programmes to help talented womem resume their careers.

There are also courses and products that can help women identify what direction they may want to take their career in now (like our Career Audit) and get their CV and LinkedIn profiles confidently job-ready (like our CV and Cover Letter Kit and our online LinkedIn course).

And finally, there’s the brilliant Mums Enterprise Roadshow – lively, inspiring events aimed at helping women get into the right frame of mind for change, and identify their next steps. It’s a must-attend event if you’re looking to retrain, find flexible work, or start or grow a business.

The Mums Enterprise Roadshow will be in Manchester at Event City, Trafford City on Wednesday 20 June, and at Olympia London on Friday 28 and Saturday 29 September 2018. You can register a place for free and find out more here.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon