Maternity coaching: more than a nice-to-have

Organisations that demonstrate a proactive approach to maternity for all staff members (including dads!) show clear benefits to everyone.

 Even the Chief Financial Officer will be smiling.

It’s still an unequal world

Having children has an undeniable negative impact on women’s careers, with gender inequalities still causing disparity in the workplace. While huge work has been done to change regulation and perception, this is a complex issue with a long way yet to go.

In a study of over 6000 respondents run by YouGov, an international research data and analytics group, nearly two in five mothers (38%) said that having children harmed their careers. This sentiment only applied to one in seven fathers (14%), while a third of fathers believe that having kids benefited their career. Women are under-supported through this massive event.

What does this mean for organisations?

The knock-on for the workplace is that women are likely to leave their place of employment within two years of returning from maternity leave. If they’re lucky (or are they?), they may become stay-at-home-mums and leave employment altogether. Or more likely, they may seek more flexible work, at lower pay and with fewer growth opportunities. 

Women who can stay at home and raise children may disadvantage themselves in the longer term. If they’ve pulled out of employment and wish to return at a later date for whatever reason, they’ve lost their spot on the career ladder. Not only that, they may find that they have to start on a lower rung again, having missed years of pay increases, promotions, skills development, and experience. 

Legislative pressure on organisations to have more women in senior positions means that growing the career paths of women is important. This isn’t a soft benefit by any means. Women tend to score higher on leadership effectiveness traits, and companies that have more female leaders do better, says this article in Forbes. So really, there’s a massive economic motivation to advance women in the workplace and more importantly, to keep them there. And to keep them after they’ve had babies. 

What’s going on?

Having a baby – whether biological or through adoption – is a catalyst for profound transformation, often producing psychological turmoil and a shift in a woman’s sense of self, to put it simplistically. Integrating this new self-identity into the old work environment can be difficult, affecting motivation levels. Managers and colleagues too may not know how to support returning mothers, if they’re even aware of the changes themselves.  

The lack of support for new mothers within organisations shows up in broader perceptions. In one survey, 46% of respondents felt that women become less committed to their jobs after having a child. This is unsurprising. In the same study, nine out of ten men reported that most of the childcare was their partner’s responsibility. While this comes across as pretty sexist, most dads and partners would like to participate more in raising their children but aren’t afforded the necessary parental leave to do so. 

This year saw a record number of women in leadership in Fortune 500 companies. 15% or 74 female CEOs to be exact. But, that’s up from 41 in June 2021, and 7 women leaders in 2002. Figures also show that companies committed to gender diversity are more successful than those with male-dominated staff. FTSE companies with females at the board level are ten times more profitable than those with no women holding those positions. 

So what’s to be done about it?

Financial strategies will of course be at the forefront of any leader’s mind to retain female staff. As in: make it financially viable for a mum to be at work. And that’s not at all ludicrous. Perhaps the next priority is ensuring that returning mothers’ career paths are not derailed. Not ludicrous either, you may say. 

Structures should be in place to support returning maternity staff for the onboarding/reboarding process. Greater work flexibility helps, as does ensures that partners also have relative logistical support. Those are perhaps the better-known approaches within organisations, and some do better than others. 

But a life event like having a child runs far deeper than practical issues, not to make light of those by any means. From the moment a woman finds out she is pregnant, the transformation begins. 

What is maternity coaching?

It’s a change management process, which offers support in a safe, confidential, and compassionate environment. 

Although aimed at the mother, the ripple effect is far-reaching. It adds to a culture of awareness, while also having a reputational knock-on effect, identifying an organisation as forward-thinking and attractive to outside talent.

The process can be broken into three segments: 

  • Pregnancy
  • The life-changing event of birth, requires rapid adaptation
  • And the return to work

Each of these phases brings obvious feelings of excitement, but what’s less acknowledged, is the uncertainty and anxiety accompanying them. 

And while we may observe clear changes within the mother, the work environment will have changed too. 

There may be new staff, perhaps she even has a new role, and there may be new skills to acquire. These will all help to create additional feelings of isolation, disconnectedness, and anxiety. 

The earlier maternity coaching is made available, the better. Ideally, it should commence well before maternity leave begins, offering support on practical and emotional issues. It might cover matters like role changes and handover details, while also offering guidance on work-life balance, expectation management, and career goals in light of the impending milestone. It offers confidence to new mothers to return to their roles, making them more effective, feel more supported and hence, more likely to stay on. 

It’s in the numbers

It’s not surprising that maternity coaching increases retention rates. One UK business showed an increase from 80% to 95% after introducing the programme. Recruitment costs go down, but it also helps retain experience and expertise within a business, which then positively affects productivity and general morale. 

For organisations looking for a win/win solution to offer their employees, maternity coaching is hard to beat.


Author bio: As an experienced coach, Rachel Morris supports business leaders to gain clarity around who they are right now, where they are aiming to be and how they are going to get there. Her client list includes leaders from brands such as Channel 4, URBN, and Chanel, and she coaches daily.


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