One in five working mothers considering leaving work, new report finds

Experts call for better policies and coaching as lack of support from managers, skills issues and economic challenges combine to create an exodus

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One in 10 working mothers have quit their jobs, with one in five considering leaving work due to the challenges that come with balancing professional and childcare duties, a new study has found.

The joint Totaljobs and Fawcett Society research surveyed 3,000 working parents with children four and under as well as 500 UK HR decision makers and aggregated this with data from other UK adults in employment.

It also found that nearly eight in 10 (79 per cent) women have faced barriers to progression while managing childcare.

In addition, a third of employers wrongly assume that pregnant women are less interested in career progression, despite 76 per cent remaining just as ambitious after having a child and 44 per cent saying they are more ambitious.

Adding to this disconnect is the fact that 68 per cent of working mothers feel their capabilities and contributions are sometimes undervalued and overlooked at work.

Jemima Olchawski, CEO of the Fawcett Society, said the fact that women are held back by such a short period of their career, when they may have to balance the care of young children with work, is the result of “outdated prejudices and assumptions”.

She added: “This results in many women stuck in roles that are below their capabilities and for businesses who are struggling to retain talent and combat ongoing skills shortages, the opportunity to develop promising careers that should never have stalled in the first place is an obvious step towards solving these issues.”

Alongside the skills crisis, there are nationwide economic worries which Liz Sebag-Montefiore, director and co-founder at 10Eighty, explained could be solved by reducing barriers to fruitful careers for working mothers.

She said: “The economy could expand through higher labour force participation if working mothers were better supported, as businesses need women at work – and supporting working mothers in the workforce can help promote a stronger economy and benefit society as a whole.”

It raises the question of what employers and HR can do to improve outcomes for working mothers.

Sebag-Montefiore believes that businesses should focus on the positives of retaining working mothers, supporting policies and coaching, as well as staying in touch with mothers on maternity leave, providing support on return (such as workstation setup), and having good communication around what might have changed in their absence.

She added: “Employers should also accommodate flexible working requests and discuss what could work to retain a new mother; the cost of re-recruitment and training should serve as a strong disincentive to losing working parents. 

“Technology has made it so much easier to work flexibly, so it makes no sense for employers to be so resistant to flexible work.”

Amanda Trewhella, employment director at national law firm Freeths, added that while there is no legal obligation for an organisation to support working mothers, those that do support via tweaked procedures and policy will “reap the rewards of being able to attract and retain the best people”.

She said that as it stands requests around flexible working are available for employees who have had 26 weeks of continuous service and employers that refuse it must have a sound business reason.

She added: “It is accepted in employment tribunal cases that women tend to bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities, therefore if women are prevented from working flexibly and their employer does not have legitimate grounds for doing so, they risk a claim of indirect sex discrimination.”