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Fail to mentor new parents and lose out in talent pool

Nicki Seignot

The last five years has seen a dramatic cultural shift in the boardroom with one in four companies now evidencing at least one woman at the heart of senior decision making. From Nicki Seignot is an established coach, mentor and author of Mentoring New Parents at Work. 

The make-up of the senior team is critical as well as symbolic but while much has been said about this welcome move it is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to helping women make the most of their careers. As important is the pipeline that leads to the top jobs and the need for businesses to recognize that parenting is the fork in the road that can impact on employees’ lives with direct consequences for the talent pipeline. Companies are failing to properly address the trend for women who want to balance having children while continuing with a fulfilling working career.

Nearly 700,000 births were recorded in 2015 with the average age of mothers increasing to 30.3 years of age and the fertility rate for women aged 40 and over higher than the rate for women under 20, for the first time since 1947*. Women are having babies later and therefore are more likely to be in a senior role, be skilled, experienced and knowledgeable about the business and their organisation. Companies have already made significant investments in these individuals’ careers and development so it makes good business sense to extend the investment and support those returns to work.

There are scant recorded figures about how many women give up, or scale down, opting for a lower role in return for a less complex working life after having a child and how much this costs business and the wider economy. PcW’s annual Women in Work Index shows that the UK could boost its GDP by 9 percent (£170b) if it increased the number of women in work to match that of Sweden, the highest performing country. In September 2016, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission launched Working Forward – a collaboration of employers including Royal Mail, BT, Barclays, John Lewis leading the way on pregnancy and maternity rights for employees.

It reported: Some three quarters of pregnant women and new mothers, (390,000 a year of those in work), reported they had a negative or discriminatory experience at work. Only one in three feel confident enough even to raise the matter with their employer and 21,000 pregnant women a year leave their jobs because they are worried about the impact on their health and that of their baby. Yet 84 percent of British businesses claim they support pregnant women and those on maternity leave. There is an obvious disconnect between reality and policy.

Becoming a parent is life-changing.  Our experience as employers, practitioners, researchers and working parents tells us this is a critical time for offering support to new parents as they navigate the transition, plan for their return and re-engage with work and career. At an organisational level, there are huge costs associated with losing experienced and talented employees when they start a family and, in the interest of building a more diverse and balanced workforce, organisations need their people to return engaged and motivated to progress their career.

Mentoring has a key role to play as one of a critical mass of initiatives relating to good practice around returning talent. Strength comes from within.  Good practice is all about tapping into the internal pool of working parents – mothers / fathers / adoptive parents / same sex couples who’ve made the journey back, can empathise with what their colleague is going through.  They know the unique organisation and culture.

Nicki Seignot is an established coach, mentor and author of Mentoring New Parents at Work. She is the lead consultant and founder of The Parent Mentor a specialist consultancy that works with employers and organisations to offer support for employees as they combine work and parenting for the first time.  It’s part of a long-term strategy of developing and retaining talent, bridging the gap between policy and experience.

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