I’m a return to work mum, though not the one in the picture. (I’m also a very capable business professional) 

I’m one of the fortunate ones that managed to break through the barriers of returning to work. Yes, there are barriers. Many. I was a recruitment consultant in my early 20’s. I remember the way in which I thought about RTWMs. I had biases. I made assumptions. I thought I “got it”. I thought I knew what being a working mum would be like. Spoiler: Wrong! 

I now know that returning to work after a child is difficult. For numerous reasons. Some personal, some cultural, generational, financial; the list is long and real.

Let’s take a look at some of the barriers women face in re-entering the workplace. I should note this isn’t everyone’s experience, but it is reflective of many.

  • You’re torn and would prefer to be at home. Ie. how committed are you to your career? The notion that having a family potentially reduced your professional ambitions. There are mothers amongst us that love working, and at the same time, love their child. It’s possible! Be vocal about what you want from your career. Equally, be vocal about your commitment to your family.  
  •  Business language. You’ve spent 6/12/24mths + speaking gibberish. Bubba want some nom noms? Then it comes to having your first business conversation and it’s like a foreign language. Each time I have prepared to re-enter the workforce after maternity leave I have spent time immersing myself in my industry again. Reacquainting myself with the trends, the language, the influencers. It helps. It will return but goodness it’s a blow to the self confidence.
  • Child care. It’s expensive and it doesn’t always suit your work arrangements. It’s brilliant that many employers are offering flexible workplaces and practices but most childcare centres do not.  The new child care subsidy changes have made it even harder for some families to justify their income vs their expenses. Though there is significant research to show that women are retiring with substantially less superannuation than men, due to these work gaps
  • The assumption that you’d be happy, and grateful, to take a lesser position to “ease you back in”. Thank you, but will that also come with a pay cut? We know that women are not only likely to be paid less to begin with, but then this practice sets them back even further. This strategy absolutely works for some women, easing the transition but it should not be the assumed solution. A good employer will provide a supported transition period. Allowing you time to settle back into a rhythm. Be your own advocate, ask for what you need.

The truth is, RTWMs are often faced with a triple-threat of bias: gender, age and perceived skills gap.

I’m not certain there’s a silver bullet. Though in my opinion, there are definitely strategies that will reduce these barriers. 

We are well versed with grad programmes; what about returning programmes? Those that support people in a similar fashion to those returning to work post-injury or illness. Programmes where women are provided with the tools to rebuild their confidence. These programmes do exist. Hats off to EY and Deloitte who run successful return to work schemes.

Additionally, as recruiters we need to understand this demographic better. Only last week a fellow mum of 4 boys shared with me “I met this recruiter and one of the first questions, before we tackled my resume, was how many children do you have? When I told her 4, she asked me how would I manage them and working”.

Yes, it’s 2018 and we are still being asked these questions. (Side note: I wonder if her husband was also asked this question?)

As businesses we need to be vocal about the ways in which we support RTWMs. Whether it’s paid maternity leave, flexible work practices or mentoring programs. These are known benefits to support women in the workplace. While Australian employment statistics show improvement around women returning, there is much to be done to ensure women have the opportunities and framework to support return, and that they are supported once they get there.

Women are now having children later in life. In Australia 1 in 10 first time mothers are aged 35 and over. By this point in their lives many have established careers, which to some extent, define their identities. This is hard to walk away from and even harder to get back. There is an incredible pool of talented women out there and we need to be more proactive in backing their return.