maternity, post maternity, leave

Re-Engaging Talent Post Maternity Leave

Re-Engaging Talent Post Maternity Leave
Authors: David Collings, Yseult Freeney and Lisa van der Werff
Leadership & Talent Institute, DCU Business School, Dublin City University. 

Over the past number of decades, the talent agenda has become one of the
most pressing challenges for organisational and HR leaders alike. There has been an increasing realisation that building effective talent pipelines is central to the delivery of the strategic agendas of organisations. However, there is little evidence that organisations have been successful in building these talent pipelines. For example, PWC’s annual CEO pulse surveys identify the lack of availability of key skills as a key constraint on firms’ ability to deliver on their strategic agenda year on year.  Ineffectiveness in building diverse talent pipelines has been a particular failure of traditional talent management programmes. From a gender perspective, females continue to be significantly underrepresented in corporate talent pipelines. This is despite the fact that building diverse talent pipelines was the number one priority of respondents to a Mercer study. While we have witnessed progress in terms of the basic building blocks of increasing diversity in talent pools (including organisations developing the business case for gender diversity, tracking gender representation across the workforce, and developing training, flexibility, and
networking programs for female talent) many barriers remain in developing gender-diverse talent pipelines. 

Academic research has established that parental responsibilities have a significant impact on female career progression. In contrast, the top performing companies in McKinsey’s research on Women in the Workplace have targeted interventions to facilitate parents in the workplace:
* they are more than twice as likely as those at the bottom of the distribution to offer emergency backup childcare services; 
* three times as likely to offer on-site childcare; 
* and more likely to offer extended maternity and paternity leave, as well as programs to smooth the transition to and from extended leave. 

We identified the return to work after maternity leave as a key transition point which can derail the careers of high potential female talent. This prompted our study of the experience of high potential female talent on their return from maternity leave.

Our research, sponsored by HR Search, identified the return to work after maternity leave as a key transition point, which can derail the careers of high potential female talent. The results presented in the current report speak directly to this question.

We found that where line managers and/or the organisation viewed maternity leave as a brief interlude in the individual’s long-term career, returning mothers reported a positive transition back to the workplace. Where maternity leave was viewed as a major disruption, negative experiences were more common.

Despite the fact the women interviewed had been identified as high potential employees, three issues were highlighted: 
* career derailment;
* unconscious biases amongst colleagues;
* and a deterioration of professional relationships. 
In each case, these issues were compounded by a lack of open and transparent communication between the returner and their line manager.

Many positive stories were also reflected: with positive reintegration to the workplace attributed to women feeling valued, the enrichment of professional relationships and the renewed focus that working women bring to managing their work.

Best practice identified include: 
* organisations taking a longer-term view of a woman’s career;
* implementing line manager training to support the transition back to work;
* developing a role model system enabling women to share experiences; 
* permitting phased return;
* and employing flexible and agile practices for all, not just women.

Poor practices include: making assumptions (returning women, line managers and work colleagues) about intentions or motivations. This is compounded by poor communication; unconscious bias, or the perception that returning women will be less engaged in their work; curtailing opportunities for involvement in meaningful projects or promotions; and neglecting logistics such as IT and desks before return.

All in all, our research confirms the importance of the return to work after maternity leave in terms of high potential females’ career progression. We identified some key areas where organisations can focus on ensuring that the careers of these high potential females are not derailed as a result of their maternity leave. 

*Over 300 women, the HR Director and line managers in 28 major organisations were interviewed in this report. The sectors represented include Banking, Finance and Insurance; Professional Services, Telecommunications and Technology, Pharmaceuticals; Aviation and Logistics and Public Sector/Semi-State Organisations. 

The summary report is available to download here:


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