BusinessDay

Must organisations support working mums after maternity leave?

This crucial question plagued my mind after my second maternity leave at work. While i considered myself a ‘pro’ because it wasnt my first, I could not help but feel a sense of anxiousness and worry about leaving my baby at home and what work would look like when i return. Will my team have moved on without me? Will my current role still be relevant? These are some of the questions I did not have answers to back in 2019. However today, companies are becoming more aware of introducing and sustaining equitable work cultures that sees women thrive at work, especially after a short break. When employers are attune to the needs of their female talent by providing support and policies that empowers them personally and professionally, we will see more women thrive at work.

The informal sector is a significant component of Africa’s economy. According to a Mckinsey report: The Power of Parity (2019), 90% of women in Sub-Saharan Africa are in the informal sector, with 10% in the formal sector. This statistics shows why it is important for organizations to foster helpful workplace environments and policies to retain female talent in the formal sector.

In 2021, Nigeria joined a host of african countries to approve paternity leave for workers. This action in itself shows the need for a more balanced view on the topic of parental leave. Nigerian workers who are fathers can now take 14 days off to cater to their new born and support their spouse. This action in itself plays a role in the smoother transition of mothers back to work.

A research carried out with over 1000 women in the United Kingdom, showed that only 18% felt happy and confident about returning to work. More than 37% felt unsupported and isolated on their return that they considered handing in their notice, and about 10% were not offered any formal support through a returner program. (peoplemanagement.co.uk)

So how can organizations help create a smooth transition for women who have returned to work post maternity leave?

Read also: Ifedayo Durosinmi – Etti is leading a financial platform to empower women

1. Sensitize and train people-leaders
Organizations can train people-leaders on how to manage their team members who have just returned. One of the key challenges women face is unconscious bias either with their managers or peers. The goal is to drive positivity by ensuring that the team sees maternity leave as a normal break in a woman’s long term career. When we start to sensitize managers and team members, we will start to see mothers who return reporting a more renewed focus for their work and feelings of being valued. Overtime, we will see the company culture evolve to a more inclusive one.

2. Flexible working arrangements & policies.
In this case, organizations can offer flexible hours or phased return for the first few months back at work. While it is more commonplace that companies offer this, i.e. leaving work an hour earlier than office hours, what we need to see more of is offering women the flexibility to work from home on some days. This has a significant impact on how easy it is for women to settle in and reduces the anxiety and overwhelm associated with leaving their babies at home.

3. Provide the necessary infrastructural support.
At the minimum, every office should have a lactation room with the right amenities to allow mothers not only to pump at work, but to do so in an environment that relaxes them and enhances the lactation process. I say at the minimum because there are also more advanced options like having a creche for babies or providing subsidies for parents to access local creche options at an affordable rate.

4. The back-to-work workshop
Workshops or masterclasses that cater to enabling a smooth transition back to work for mothers are so important and should be offered by organizations. The aim of these workshops is to support mothers with their re-orientation to work and to give them the tools and confidence they need to thrive at work. Some of the topics include; strategies to ease the return to work, setting expectations with your manager and team, resources and strategies to aid adapting to change and an action plan and career plan for mothers. Confidence has been said to be one of the main deterrents of women at work. The back to work support for women can therefore be considered as a way to boost the esteem and readiness of mothers returning to work post maternity leave.

To learn more about Kobikam Africa’s ‘back to work’ workshops for mothers post maternity leave, send us an email on contactus@kobikamafrica.com.

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