10 Ways to Beat the Mommy Track

 -  11/13/11

Thoughtful maternity policies can mean the difference between retaining or losing a valued employee.

Seeing a meeting request from a valued and respected female employee with a vague subject line can be unnerving for executives. They might fear this employee is about to give notice, and their first response might be to panic, thinking about the raise that wasn’t quite big enough, the missed opportunities to show appreciation, and the damage that could be caused if this employee goes to work for a competitor. Then the appointed hour arrives, the employee walks in, sits down and says, “I have great news! I’m pregnant!”

Whether the executive feels horror or relief, how he or she responds could shape how this woman feels about the company and her future ability to balance motherhood and her career. Since she saw a positive sign on her pregnancy test, this employee likely has been dreading this meeting. She has been worried about her boss’ reaction, whether her opportunities for advancement will be diminished and if she will be viewed differently once her news is public. She has been hiding her morning sickness and making up stories to get to doctor’s appointments. It has been difficult, but she hopes her announcement will be met with genuine warmth and reassurance.

While many companies do not view this situation positively, a pregnancy announcement by a key employee presents an opportunity for an organization to establish itself as a family-friendly workplace and engender positive feelings from this employee. A warm response upon learning of the pregnancy, followed by an organized and respectful discussion regarding the transition of her work in anticipation of her leave and her return, is critically important to retain this employee once she becomes a parent.

According to “The New Demography of American Motherhood,” a study published by the Pew Research Center in August 2010, today’s mothers of newborns are older, better educated and tend to cite “the joy of having children” as their reason for having their first child. As a result, many professional women are willing to make significant career changes to ensure they can be actively involved in parenting.

Consulting company Catalyst noted this phenomenon in August with its “Women Leaving & Re-entering the Work Force” study, which included telling statistics regarding the return-to-work rates for new mothers: 20 percent of working mothers did not return to the workforce at all within one year following the birth of their first child; 17 percent of those who did return did so at a different employer, and of those who went to a different employer, 32 percent report they work fewer hours than before their first child was born. These numbers indicate many women are attracted to opportunities that offer fewer hours and more flexibility when they have small children.

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