How returning to work from maternity leave is getting easier

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Returning to work from maternity leave is a daunting prospect for many women. But times are changing thanks to the work of AAT and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) in increasing the level of support employers offer their staff

Despite the UK’s well-developed equality legislation, there are still many women whose careers suffer during maternity leave. Fortunately AAT, CMI and many employers and other partners are working hard to ensure that any potential loss of talent is avoided.

A lack of confidence when returning to work after maternity leave

Recent AAT research found that eight in ten mothers end up lacking in confidence and feel socially isolated when they take time off work for their children. During their maternity leave, many women feel unchallenged and like they are losing the professional skills which they have spent so long developing.

It’s precisely because of this loss of confidence that many women struggle to realise their potential. It also goes some way to explain why so few women have been progressing to top executive positions.

Why the Government’s shared parental leave is a move in the right direction

Government and employers have been working together to prevent circumstances such as these from continuing. Nick Clegg’s announcement about shared parental leave and his pledge to maximise flexibility and encourage shared parental responsibility is a move in the right direction for working mothers.

By enabling couples to share parental leave, the added flexibility should reduce the chance of mothers falling behind their counterparts in their career progression without limiting the care of their child.

Alongside the successful launch of the CMI’s Women in Management network, this should help in the efforts of many employers to close the gap between men and women in leadership roles and help women achieve their managerial goals.

Why providing emotional support is important

Also key in ensuring women can realise their professional potential after their maternity leave is providing the emotional support that they will need. Janice Roberts, a CMI member and professional accountant, makes a strong argument:

‘From a manager’s perspective, when mothers do return to work after their maternity leave it’s essential that they understand that a new mother will be dealing with emotions they have never felt before,’ she argues. ‘Managers must learn how to handle this delicate time for the company and the mother.’

Professional women from all walks of life also support one another by sharing their experiences and coping strategies. Myra Geater, for example, has forged herself a highly successful career at Vodafone as the European Management Information Business Partner and she has provided some tips for women returning to work.

Why good management is key

Crucially, it’s good managers and leaders that know how to help get the best from their staff, and people in such a position are unlikely to allow maternity leave to get in the way of their staff’s career progression.

The sort of awareness demonstrated by managers such as these explains the recent rise in mothers returning from their maternity leave being encouraged to take any learning and development opportunities available.

This blog was jointly compiled by Joshua Atkins (CMI) and Nicky Burke (AAT). More information on AAT’s research into how women on maternity leave begin to lose confidence can be found online.

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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