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Returners challenge: over 800,000 working mothers’ careers stalled after parental leave


Research from Totaljobs, the UK’s leading hiring platform, in partnership with the Fawcett Society reveal that over a quarter of working mothers’ careers after parental leave hit obstacles and even stall. This is higher in comparison to 21% of working fathers. 18% of mothers went as far as to say they had been left out of more exciting work projects. 

 ‘Returners challenge’ affects working mothers’ careers after parental leave

The survey covered over 3000 working parents with at least one child up under the age of four. The results found that a third of working mothers (34%) lost confidence in their skills and abilities after returning to work from parental leave. Almost half (48%) said this was because the balancing act of juggling work and parenting commitments undermined their confidence.

While an overwhelming majority of all parents (78%) faced challenges when transitioning back to work this was much higher among mothers (84% vs 74% of fathers).

The top challenges included, feeling guilty or anxious about leaving their child with childcare (45%). Balancing work and childcare responsibilities (39%), and the affordability of childcare (35%) was also high. However, 44% of mothers surveyed said they felt more ambitious upon their return from maternity leave.

Lack of inclusion upon return

Over two fifths of mothers (41%) felt isolated and disconnected from colleagues upon returning from parental leave (compared to just 28% of working fathers), this was especially high among single mothers (60%).

Many mothers also reported encountering unhelpful perceptions and adjustments from their employers and colleagues upon their return. 18% said they had been made to feel they weren’t working hard enough. Compared to 12% of working fathers. 15% felt excluded from work socials, versus 10% of working fathers. Other challenges included:

  • Facing additional pressure and workload (17%)
  • Having less recognition of their hard work (14%)
  • On the receiving end of microaggressions and negative comments (13%)

Employer support falling short

30% of women discuss the working mothers lack of support. It is reported that they had no support particularly when transitioning back to work. Rising to 42% for those who took 26-52 weeks of maternity leave. Only 31% have access to flexible work arrangements, despite this being top of the list of the support they’d find the most useful.

A further 27% felt uncomfortable discussing the support they needed with their boss upon returning to work (vs just 17% fathers).

85% of businesses say they have policies in place to support mothers returning to work. However when trying to improve or bolster these benefits they come up against:

  • A lack of budget (28%)
  • Limited availability of childcare services in the area (27%)
  • Difficulty in accommodating flexible working (25%)

The research points to a disconnect between the support that is offered by employers and the help mothers have access to.

Working mothers lack support

Jane Lorigan, CEO at Totaljobs, said: “Working mothers are an invaluable part of our workforce and economy. They should be celebrated and supported, not marginalised or excluded. Our research shows that while parents face challenges upon returning from parental leave, these challenges are disproportionately impacting mothers. We urge employers to take this issue seriously and implement policies and practices that foster a culture of inclusion, respect, and flexibility for working mothers and all employees. This will not only benefit individuals, but also organisations and society as a whole.”

Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society said: The Fawcett Society believes in workplaces that support all women returning to work by providing the appropriate steps to ensure equal opportunities are offered while their flexible needs are met. We call on businesses and government to prioritise ending the motherhood penalty by properly supporting returning mothers to balance their work and caring responsibilities.”

You’ll find more articles focusing on women in the workplace as well as wellbeing for all